Past Form (-ed): Past Simple Tense

Many resources call this the “past simple” or “simple past”. Most English speakers don’t know these terms, but they use the structure naturally because they are very familiar with it and understand its meaning.

The meaning of the past form is the same for all sentences that have a verb in the past form (which is a lot!). Here, we’ll look at what this form means and how it is applied to simple sentences.

Or start with our practice exercises.

What is it?

present form past form ing form en form
eat
work
have
play
 ate
worked
had
played
 eating
working
having
playing
 eaten
worked
had
played

The past form of most verbs is formed by adding -ed, however, many common verbs have irregular past forms, such as go/went, have/had and do/did.

What does it mean?

Verbs in the past form show us we are NOT referring to the present-future.

past simple tense timeline - not the present

How do we use it?

We use verbs in the past form to refer to the past. Actions and events that happened in the past are finished.

past simple tense timeline - in the past, not the present

We use the past form to talk about things that happened at a point of time in the past.

We use the past form to talk about things that happened over a period of time in the past.

I ate breakfast at 6AM.

past simple tense timeline - completed action in the past

I lived in England last year.

past simple tense timeline - a period of time in the past

Examples

We are talking about a specific time in the past, so we often need to say when it was.

Subject Verb Object Place Time
We ate eggs this morning.  We ate eggs this morning.
She worked on Wednesday.  She worked on Wednesday.
They lived in Sweden in 2007.  They lived in Sweden in 2007.
You liked swimming last week.  You liked swimming last week.
He had breakfast at 7:30.  He had breakfast at 7:30.
I played soccer on Sunday.  I played soccer on Sunday.

Sometimes exactly when doesn’t matter. We know it is in the recent past.

I got a new bike!

The listener knows that this must have happened recently.

We also use the past form to describe things that were true in the past.

past simple tense timeline - describing something at a time in the past

He had a hat.

In the past. He might not have a hat now.

The hat was new.

In the past. The hat might not be new now.

They were hungry.

In the past. They might not be hungry now.

That tasted delicious!

In the past. We have finished eating.

We add did (the past form of do) to make questions and negative sentences.

Questions

Did you eat eggs this morning?
Did she work on Wednesday?
Did they live in Sweden in 2007?
Did you like swimming last week?
Did he have breakfast at 7:30?
Did you play soccer on Sunday?

Negatives

We didn’t eat eggs this morning.
She didn’t work on Wednesday.
They didn’t live in Sweden in 2007.
You didn’t like swimming last week.
He didn’t have breakfast at 7:30.
I didn’t play soccer on Sunday.

Notice that only the first verb gets changed to the past form. The first verb provides us with the essential information, so the other verbs stay in the basic present form.

Key Point

We use the past form to refer to something NOT in the present or future.

Practice Exercises

1. Find the past form

2. Complete the sentences

3. Complete the conversation