Present or Past?
Present Simple vs Past Simple (-ed)

When do people use the past form? Let’s look at some sentences with verbs in the past form (past simple) and present form (present simple) to better understand the meaning the past form adds and why speakers choose to use it.

Or start with our practice exercises.

Why do we use it?

We add the past form to our sentences to show we aren’t referring to the present-future.



We use the present form for descriptions in the present-future.

We use the past form for descriptions in the past.

present simple tense timeline - describing the present

Tokyo is the capital of Japan. (true in the present)
I‘m not hungry.
Are they delicious?

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

Nara was the capital of Japan. (true in the past)
I wasn’t hungry after work. So I didn’t eat.
Were they delicious? There are none left.

Fixed events

We use the present form for fixed events in the future (these things can’t be changed). The speaker often says when they happen.

We use the past form for events in the past (the past can’t be changed). We say or know when they happened.

present simple tense timeline - schedule - fixed future

The meeting starts at 10:30.
The game isn’t on Sunday.
When does the bus leave?

past simple tense timeline - completed action in the past

The meeting started at 10:30.
The game wasn’t on Sunday.
When did the bus leave?


We use the present form for actions that happen in the present, as the speaker speaks. For example, for narration or sports commentary (These things finish in the present; they finish before we finish speaking.)

We use the past form for actions that happened in the past. (These things finished in the past.)

present simple tense timeline - commentary - narration - events as they happen

She doesn’t pass the ball.
She shoots.
Does it have the distance?

past simple tense timeline - completed action in the past

I went shopping.
He didn’t lock the door.
Did you play golf?

Repeated actions and events

When we use the present form and don’t know exactly when an action happens, we understand that the speaker is speaking generally and it happens many times. (This is very common.)

present simple tense timeline - in general - many times

I go shopping.
He doesn’t lock the door.
Do you play golf?

Practice Exercises

1. Complete the conversation

*TIP* This is a conversation, so saying “I do not like..” may sound too strong. Use “I don’t like…”

2. Make a conversation

3. How can we say it?

Choose sentences to fit the situations. There may be more than one answer.

4. Practice Irregular Past Forms

Here are some common phrases about the present and past.


How did you go? These are the two most common English tense patterns. If you’d like to go over them again you can review information on the present form and past form,

Or, look another common pattern that is useful for everyday speech: be -ing (known as the present progressive tense).

or return to top.

Looking for a good grammar book?

Grammar helps people understand each other better.

If you are interested in a grammar book that looks at common parts of English sentences and what they mean (like -ed, will, have -en/-ed, and  be -ing on this page), be sure to check out Real Grammar.

With Real Grammar you understand grammatical meaning. Grammatical meaning helps you understand more of what people say in English.

Real Grammar is grammar for communication.

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