Simple Past

Simple Past Tense Explained with Examples

The Simple Past is one of the three aspects of simple tenseOpens in new window. The simple past tense shows action that happened and completed at a point in the past. We often use words like before, yesterday, in the past, years ago, and many other related words to indicate the simple past tense.

Examples include:
  • I walked to school yesterday.
  • Andy participated in today’s debate.
  • He bought a new shirt last week.

How to Use the Simple Past Tense

1.  Expression of Affirmative Statements with Simple Past Tense — To make affirmative statement with simple past tense, the Structure: subject + verb–ed or irregular past form (if the verb is irregular) is used.

Examples include:
  • He wished his father a happy birthday.
  • I taught high school for seven years before teaching at Houston.
  • Effiong and Lola studied Spanish in college.

2.  Expression of Negative Statements with Simple Past Tense. — To make negative statement with simple past tense, the Structure: subject + did + not (didn’t) + simple form of verb is used.

Examples include:
  • He did not wish his father a happy birthday.
  • I didn’t teach high school for seven years before teaching at Houston.
  • Effiong and Lola did not study Spanish in college.

3.  Expression of Interrogative Statements with Simple Past Tense — To make interrogative statement with simple past tense, the Structure: (interrogative word) + did + subject + simple form of verb is used.

Examples include:
  • When did he wish his father a happy birthday?
  • Did he teach high school for seven years before teaching at Houston?
  • Why did Effiong and Lola study Spanish in college?

4.  Expression of Negative Interrogative Statements with Simple Past Tense — To make negative interrogative statement with simple past tense, the Structure: (interrogative word) + did not (didn’t) + subject + simple form of verb is used.

Examples include:
  • Why didn’t he wish his father a happy birthday?
  • Didn’t he teach high school for seven years before teaching at Houston?
  • Why didn’t Effiong and Lola study Spanish in college?
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How to Form the Simple Past Tense Using the Be Verb

The be verb is a mighty tricky verb in simple present Opens in new window, interrogatives Opens in new window and negative statements Opens in new window using be follow a different pattern than interrogatives and negative statements using other verbs.

The same is true with simple past; the patterns we follow with the be verb are different from the patterns we usually follow.

1.  Expression of Affirmative Statements with Be — If the subject is I, he, she, or it, we use was.

Examples include:
  • I was a high school teacher before I started teaching college.
  • Curtis Jackson was a gangster before he became a famous rapper.
  • Lola was at work when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.
  • The weather was warm yesterday, but it’s cold and windy today.

If the subject is you, we, or they, the rule is to use were. See Examples below:

  • You probably witnessed everything because you were here before we arrived.
  • Mum and Dad were upset when they found out about Mary’s pregnancy.
  • Yesterday we were at the church singing praises to God.
  • Because the couples possess a permit card, they were allowed access to the facility.

2.  Expression of Negative Statements with Be — To make a negative statement with be, the rule is to add not after be.

Examples include:
  • I was not a high school teacher before I started teaching here in Memphis.
  • Curtis Jackson was not a gangster before he became a famous rapper.
  • Lola wasn’t at work when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.
  • The weather wasn’t warm yesterday, but it’s cold and windy today.

3.  Expression of Interrogative Statements with Be — To make a negative statement with be, the structure, (interrogative word) + be + subject is used.

Examples include:
  • Was Beatrice noisy when she was a baby?
  • Why was Lola so sad yesterday?
  • How much were you asked to pay for the missing goods?
  • Were you in the church yesterday?

4.  Expression of Negative Interrogative Statements with Be — To make a negative interrogative statement with be, the structure: (interrogative word) + be + not + subject is used. However, here, the contraction form is usually preferred.

Contraction — [‘Auxiliary + Not’]
  • Short (Contracted) form of ‘am not’amn’t [This form is rarely used]
  • Short (Contracted) form of ‘is not’isn’t
  • Short (contracted) form of ‘was not’wasn’t
  • Short (contracted) form of ‘were not’weren’t
Practical Examples Include:
  • Wasn’t Beatrice noisy when she was a baby?
  • (do not say! was not Beatrice noisy… this is wrong!)
  • Why wasn’t she happy?
  • (do not say! why was not she happy…this is wrong!)
  • Weren’t you in the club last night?
  • (do not say! Were not you…this is wrong!)

Note that the Interrogatives are rarely used in formal contexts. Chances are you will seldom have needs to use them.