An important step in learning English is when you start to speak about the past. Being able to speak about the past is useful to describe completed actions at work as well as to share experiences with people you meet in your personal lives. Here is some information about the Past Simple to help you as you start to learn it.
We use the Past Simple in English in the following situations:
- to describe a completed action at a defined time in the past. For example:
We went to the cinema last night.
- to describe a completed action when it is clear that the time is finished and has no connection to the present. For example:
I’m disappointed about the exam. It was really hard and I don’t think I did very well.
How to Form the Past Simple
To make questions in the Past Simple we use ‘did’ (which is the past of ‘do’ which we use to make questions in the Present Simple):
As you can see, in the Past Simple there is no difference between he/she/it and the other subjects. Every subject uses ‘did’.
To make negative sentences we use ‘didn’t’ (instead of ‘don’t’ which we use in the Present Simple):
To make affirmative sentences we change the base form of the verb, but how we do this depends on whether the verb is regular or irregular.
The majority of English verbs have a regular form which means they all follow the same formation. To create the Past Simple of a verb we simply add -ed to the base form. For example:
If a verb ends in -e we only add -d. For example:
hope – hoped
blame – blamed
If a verb ends in -y we change it to -i and add -ed. For example:
study – studied
tidy – tidied
There are three ways that -ed can be pronounced, depending on the last letter of the verb. Here they are:
Here are some examples of the Past Simple using regular verbs:
We stayed in a four-star hotel on holiday. It was really nice.
Did Ahmed play in the match? – No. He didn’t play because he injured his foot last week.
I worked from 7am to 7pm yesterday. I’m really tired today.
You studied a lot for the exam and deserved to get a good mark.
They waited an hour for the train and eventually decided to take a bus.
When did you finish your essay? – I finished it at midnight.
We didn’t want to cook last night so we ordered a pizza.
Though most verbs in English follow this regular pattern, there are about 200 verbs which are irregular, which is obviously quite a lot and too many to learn all at once. The best way to learn them is by doing it gradually, a few at a time. There are about 30 irregular verbs that we use frequently and it’s a good idea to focus on these first, just as you do in your Wall Street English course. The most important irregular verb is ‘to be’ and this has two different forms:
All the other irregular verbs have one word for all the subjects. Here is a list of the most common irregular verbs:
Here are some examples of these irregular verbs:
We were late for our flight on Tuesday and had to wait four hours for the next one.
Sally bought a new mobile phone at the weekend.
He did a great job painting the house last summer.
I didn’t eat anything for breakfast but I ate a lot at lunchtime.
They found a special offer for a cruise in June.
Juliet had a headache this morning so she took an aspirin.
My brother left school when he was 16 but I stayed until I was 18.
Paolo’s grandmother made us our Wedding cake. It was delicious.
Where did you two meet? – We met at my friend’s last birthday party.
What was the last book you read? – It was a murder mystery by Agatha Christie.
Anique came in and put the shopping on the table.
The suppliers sent the goods on Monday 1st October.
Who told you the good news?
How did the meeting go? It went well thanks. The client had a strong accent but I understood almost everything he said.
What do we need to buy? I wrote a shopping list but I left it at home.
Ways to Practice using the Past Simple
As you can see from the information above, the structure of the Past Simple is not really difficult, but learning all the irregular verbs is not as easy. However, there are some really useful things you can do to become confident in using the Past Simple:
1) Firstly, try some fun quizzes in the Wall Street English Practice area
2) Secondly, try reading some ForToday articles that have several examples of the Past Simple in an interesting context
3) Keep a little diary and write all the things you did at the end of each day, or at the end of the week if you don’t have much time
4) Try to learn a few irregular verbs at time, for example, five a week. This may seem few but after a month that already adds up to 20 new verbs that you know and can use. For every irregular verb, write two or three of your own examples to help you remember them
Now you can speak about the present and the past. Keep practicing as much as you can at your Wall Street English and become even more fluent.