What is the Simple Past Tense?

Preterit or simple past verbs express an activity that happened and was finished at a certain point in the past. Regular verbs with the -d or -ed ending are in the simple past tense. There are several endings for irregular verbs. Helping verbs are not used with the simple past.

According to Complete English Grammar Rules, “the simple past tense is often employed with an adverbial phrase that identifies a time in the past, such as yesterday, last year, (or) an hour ago.”

“I went to the park” is an instance of a phrase using a simple past tense verb. The word “go” is used in the simple past tense since the speaker finished his activity of going to the park. You need to learn the rules for utilizing these verbs; it might be challenging to see how this example employs an irregular verb in the past simple.

Regular Verbs

Starting with common verbs is the most straightforward starting point for any topic in the English grammar. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s line, “The four travelers had a restless night, each thinking of the prize Oz had promised to bestow on him,” is an excellent illustration. The verb “pass” is in the present tense. Because you add -ed to create the past tense, you can tell it’s a standard verb.

Other examples of regular simple past tense verbs used in a sentence are:

  • I solved the puzzle.
  • He dumped the garbage.

To acquire the past tense of the verb in the first phrase, add a -d. The second illustration is simple: To create the simple past tense, add -ed to dump.


There are a few more restrictions, such as the following: chat becomes chatted if a single-syllable word ends in consonant-vowel-consonant. (However, don’t double it if the last consonant is w, x, or y.)

Suppose the last syllable of a word has more than one syllable and is stressed; double the consonant and add the suffix -ed, making the word preferred. (However, keep the initial syllable if it is emphasized.)

Change the y to an I and add -ed if the word ends in y, as in cry becoming cried.

Regular Past Simple Tense Verb Examples
Singular Plural
I dumped. We dumped.
You dumped. You dumped.
He/She/It dumped. They dumped.

“To Be” Verbs

The verbs to be, like is and am, are all irregular. The only verbs in English that alter their form across all tenses are to-be verbs. Fortunately, as the following table illustrates, the to-be verbs’ past simple form is relatively straightforward:

“To Be” Verbs Past Simple Tense Examples
Singular Plural
I was. We were.
You were. You were.
He/She/It was. They were.

Remember that the past singular was required for the first and third-person pronouns and was for the second. For the plural tenses, were is the same for all forms.

Irregular Verbs

Even though irregular verbs might be challenging in the past tense, they don’t have to be if you get to know them. For instance, Study.com, which offers video-based academic courses, gives the following table of irregular verbs in the past tense.

Irregular Verbs in Simple Past Tense
Present Past
Buy Bought
Come Came
Do Did
Fly Flew
Get Got
Go Went
Have Had
Keep Kept
Pay Paid
Run Ran
See Saw
Sleep Slept
Take Took
Tell Told
Think Thought

It would be good if you remember irregular verbs to understand how to conjugate them in the past tense. The simple past tense conjugation of “sweep” is shown in the following table.

“Sweep” Conjugation in Past Simple Tense
Singular Plural
I swept. We swept.
You swept. You swept.
He/She/It swept. They swept.

Remove the second “e” from the sweep and add a “t” to create the simple past form of this irregular verb. Although the verb is irregular, the way it is conjugated in the first, second, or third person, as well as in the single and plural forms, is always the same—swept.

All irregular verbs in the simple past tense are like this. Once familiar with the irregular verb’s essential past tense spelling, you may rest since its forms—singular, plural, and in the first, second, and third person—are the same.

Questions, Negative Statements, and Negative Questions

There are a few more situations when simple past tense verbs call for an explanation. Simple past tense queries are often formed by beginning the phrase with an irregular verb and inserting a present tense verb later in the sentence.”Did you go to the supermarket yesterday?” is an illustration. Notice how you began the phrase with the irregular verb “did” in the past tense and continued the sentence with the word go in the present tense. Some further instances include:

  • What did you do?
  • Where have you been?
  • What did you do?

Without the aid of another verb, the last phrase employs the past tense of the verb does. The past tense of the verb “do” is often used in front of a present tense verb to construct negative assertions in the simple past tense, as in the sentences:

  • The study did not find that longer school days result in more outstanding student success.
  • I did not listen to my grandpa singing in the shower, nor did I wait for Charlie to completely whining about his mobile phone.

Did you look before crossing the street? This is an example of negative inquiries that begin with the words did not or didn’t and a present or past tense verb. Other examples:

  • Were you unaware that the school was shut down?
  • What kept you from doing your schoolwork last night?

You’ll be prepared to go on to other types of past tense verbs in English after you’ve mastered the principles for making the simple past tense.

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