The Past Tense | Forms, Examples & Exercises

Verbs updated on  February 19, 2024 3 min read

The past tense is a verb tense used to discuss past actions, occurrences, or states of being.

The past tense has four forms:

Past tense forms

Past simple

Past progressive

Past perfect

Past perfect progressive

I walked I was walking I had walked I had been walking
You walked You were walking You had walked You had been walking
He/she/it walked He/she/it was walking He/she/it had walked He/she/it had been walking
We walked We were walking We had walked We had been walking
You walked You were walking You had walked You had been walking
They walked They were walking They had walked They had been walking

Simple past

The simple past tense is used when discussing completed past events or actions.

For regular verbs, the simple past tense is formed by adding the suffix “-ed” to the infinitive form of the verb (e.g., “wait” becomes “waited”). For irregular verbs, the formation of the past tense does not follow a single pattern (e.g., “run” becomes “ran,” and “bring” becomes “brought”).

The conjugation of most verbs in the simple past does not change based on the subject of the phrase. However, the verb “be” is an exception. It can take the form “was” or “were” based on the subject.

Simple past tense examples
The fans were angry that the concert was delayed.
Asher went to the bakery yesterday.
I played baseball in college.

Past progressive

The past progressive tense is used when describing an action or event that was ongoing at a specific time in the past.

The past progressive is formed with the past tense of the auxiliary verb “be” (i.e., “was” or “were”) and the present participle (“-ing” form) of the main verb (e.g., “I was talking”).

The past progressive can indicate that two past actions were occurring simultaneously, in which case both verbs appear in the past progressive. It can also indicate that the ongoing past action was interrupted by another action, in which case the other verb is in the simple past tense.

Past progressive tense examples
We were eating dinner when the doorbell rang.
Cara was drawing while her professor was talking.
I was driving to work when the storm started.

Past perfect

The past perfect tense is used when discussing a past action or event that happened before another past action or event. In this case, the other verb is in the simple past tense.

The past perfect tense is also used in conditional sentences when referring to hypothetical past events.

To form the past perfect, the auxiliary verb “had” and the past participle of the main verb are used.

Past perfect tense examples
She had played tennis for many years before she won her first competition.
Daniel had already bought tickets when the show was canceled.
If I had studied more, I would have passed the test. [conditional sentence]

Note
For regular verbs, the past participle is identical to the simple past form (e.g., “she watched,” “she had watched”). For irregular verbs, however, the past participle may be different from the simple past form (e.g., “I gave,” “I had given”).

Past perfect progressive

The past perfect progressive tense is used when describing an action that started in the past and continued until another specific time in the past. Often, this other specific time is indicated by a verb in the simple past tense.

The auxiliary verbs “had” and “been” and the present participle of the main verb are used to form the past perfect progressive.

Past perfect progressive examples

Maxi had been waiting for several hours when the plumber finally arrived.

When the test date was announced, the group had been studying for several weeks.

I had been eating eggs for years before I found out I was allergic to them.

Past tense exercises

Test your understanding of the past tense by answering these practice quiz questions.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Rhetoric

Commonly confused words

Fallacies

Symbolism

Possum vs opossum

Straw man fallacy

Play on words

Weather vs whether

Post hoc fallacy

Juxtaposition

Inter vs intra

Fallacy of composition

Paronomasia

To vs too

Tu quoque fallacy

Allusion

Subjective vs objective

Either-or fallacy


Frequently asked questions about past tense

What is the past tense of dream?

The past tense form of “dream” is “dreamed” or “dreamt”. “Dreamed” is more common in American English, and “dreamt” is more common in British English. The past tense form is used when describing a past action (e.g., “I dreamed/dreamt I was a bird”).

The past participle of “dream” is also “dreamed” or “dreamt” (e.g., “I had dreamed/dreamt of being a doctor for years”).

What is the past tense of teach?

The past tense form of “teach” is “taught.” It is used to describe an action that occurred in the past (e.g., “My parents taught me how to ride a bike”).

The past participle of “teach” is also “taught” (e.g., “He had taught for thirty years when he retired”).

What is the past tense of fly?

The past tense form of “fly” is “flew.” It is used to describe an action that occurred in the past (e.g., “She flew to Tokyo from London”).

The past participle of “fly” is “flown” (e.g., “We had already flown to Chicago when we found out the wedding was canceled”).

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Kayla Anderson Hewitt

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.

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