What Is Simple Past Tense? | Examples & Exercises

We use the simple past tense form of a verb to talk about actions and events that were completed in the past (e.g., “I walked to work yesterday”).

For regular verbs, we usually form the simple past tense by adding “-ed” to the base form of the verb (e.g., “jump” becomes “jumped”). Irregular verbs form the simple past tense in a number of ways (e.g., “go” becomes “went”).

Almost all simple past tense verbs use the same form no matter the subject (e.g., “I called/she called/we called”).

Simple past tense forms
Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I talked I didn’t talk Did I talk?
You talked (singular) You didn’t talk (singular) Did you talk? (singular)
He/she/it talked He/she/it didn’t talk Did he/she/it talk?
We talked We didn’t talk Did we talk?
You talked (plural) You didn’t talk (plural) Did you talk? (plural)
They talked They didn’t talk Did they talk?

How to use the simple past tense

We use the simple past tense (aka the past simple) to describe actions and events that took place in the past and are not ongoing.

Simple past tense examples
Cinderella went to the ball, danced with the prince, and lost her slipper.

I worked late last night.

My computer broke last week, but I fixed it.

Forming the simple past

With regular verbs, we usually form the simple past tense by adding “-ed” (or “-d” if the verb already ends in “e”). Regular verbs can sometimes change their spelling in other ways, such as “try” becoming “tried,” but they always follow a predictable pattern.

Base form Simple past tense Example
Short verbs (one syllable) ending with a consonant-vowel-consonant Double the final letter and add “-ed” beg → begged
chip → chipped
Longer verbs (more than one syllable) that end with a consonant-vowel-consonant and have a stressed final syllable Double the final letter and add “-ed” occur → occurred
abet → abetted
Ends in a consonant + y Remove the “y” and add “-ied” verify → verified
supply → supplied
Ends in “-e” Add “d” stare → stared
race → raced
All other endings Add “-ed” clean → cleaned
laugh → laughed
Note
If the verb ends in “w,” “x,” or “y,” don’t double the final letter (e.g., “flow → flowed”).

If the final syllable is not stressed, don’t double the final letter (e.g., “deliver → delivered”).

Irregular verbs don’t follow predictable patterns; they can change in a variety of ways to form the simple past tense, and some don’t change at all (e.g., “do” becomes “did,” but “hit” does not change). The only way to learn them is through practice and repetition.

Simple past tense of “be”

In almost all cases, you don’t need to change the form of past simple verbs to agree with the subject (e.g. “I talked/she talked/they talked”). The exception to this is the irregular stative verb “be.”

“Be” is the most irregular verb in the English language. It has two simple past forms, and the correct form to use depends on the subject.

Subject Verb
I was
You (singular) were
He/she/it was
We were
You (plural) were
They were

Present perfect vs past simple

The past simple tense is used for actions and events that were completed in the past.

The present perfect tense is for actions or events that began in the past and have some connection or relevance to the present; for example, a recently completed action, an experience, a change that happened over time, or an action or state that may continue.

Examples: Present perfect vs past simple
I played basketball last week.

I have played basketball before. [I have had the experience of playing basketball; I may or may not do it again.]

I was a principal. [I’m not a principal anymore.]

I have been a principal for 10 years. [I’m still a principal now.]

Note
To form the present perfect tense, use the auxiliary verb “have” (or sometimes “has”) with the past participle of the main verb.

Regular verbs are always the same in their simple past and past participle forms (e.g., “I danced” and “I have danced”). Irregular verbs, on the other hand, can have different simple past and past participle forms (e.g., “I saw” vs. “I have seen”).

You can check a dictionary to see the simple past and past participle forms of a verb or download our irregular verb list.

Simple past vs past perfect

The simple past tense is used to describe actions that took place in the past. The past perfect is used for past actions that occurred before another past action or up to a certain point in the past.

Examples: Simple past vs past perfect
That evening, they ate dinner, played cards, and watched a movie.

Mai had finished all her homework by Friday night.

How to form negatives

To form a negative past simple statement, add “did not” (or “didn’t”) after the subject and before the base form of the verb (that is, its infinitive or present form).

Examples: Negative past simple sentences
Karina did not dance at the party.

We didn’t hear the knock at the door.

To form the negative past simple of the verb “be,” replace “is” or “are” with “was not” or “were not” (or “wasn’t/weren’t”).

Examples: Negative form of the verb “be”
Her mother and father were not on time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Dolores was not feeling well.

How to form questions

To ask yes or no questions about things that happened in the past in the simple past tense, use the base form of the verb and add “did” (the past simple form of “do”) before the subject.

Examples: Simple past tense questions
Did you like the book I lent you?

Did Ivan finish the marathon?

For “be,” use the past simple tense (“was” or “were”) and move it before the subject without adding “did.”

Examples: Simple past tense questions using “be”
Was the book interesting?

Were you at the marathon?

You can add an interrogative pronoun or an interrogative adverb (e.g., “why,” “who,” “how”) before “did” or “was/were” to ask more detailed questions about past actions or events.

Examples: Simple past questions with interrogatives
Why were you at the marathon?

When did you finish the book?

How did Ivan train for the marathon?

Note
Questions about past events can be formed in other ways. For example, you can use “who” before a verb in the simple past tense to ask who carried out a particular past action (e.g., “who walked the dogs?”).

How to form the passive voice

In the active voice, the subject performs the action described by the verb (e.g., “I ate the cake”). In the passive voice, the subject receives the action (e.g., “the cake was eaten”).

To form a past simple sentence in the passive voice, follow the subject with “was/were” and use the past participle of the main verb.

Examples: Past simple passive sentences
The movie was made 50 years ago.

The picture was taken down.

The children were scolded by their teacher.

Simple past exercises

Frequently asked questions about the simple past tense

What is the difference between the simple past and past perfect?

The simple past and past perfect are both past tense forms for verbs.

  • The simple past tense is used to describe actions that took place in the past. For example, “Sven started a new job last year.”
  • The past perfect is used for past actions that occurred before another past action or up to a certain point in the past. For example, “Sven had worked in hospitality for five years before becoming an accountant.”
  • The other past tense forms are the past continuous and the past perfect continuous.

What is the difference between the simple past and present perfect?

The simple past is a verb tense used for actions and events that were completed in the past. For example, “I was a writer for the New York Times” expresses that the speaker wrote for the New York Times in the past but doesn’t write for them anymore.

The present perfect tense is for actions or events that began in the past and have some connection or relevance to the present (i.e., a recently completed action, an experience, a change that happened over time, or an action or state that may continue).

For example, “I have been a writer for the New York Times for two years” expresses that the speaker started writing for the New York Times two years ago and still writes for them now.

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Sophie Shores, MA

Sophie has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Publishing, and a passion for great writing. She’s taught English overseas and has experience editing both business and academic writing.