Past Simple / Preterit
In English, the past simple tense is used to speak about finished actions which happened in finished time.
Formation of Past Simple forms
As a general rule, the past simple tense is formed by adding the ending "--ed" to the verb infinitive.
to walk -- walked
to answer -- answered
to want -- wanted
If a verb infinitive ends with a silent 'e' we only add the letter 'd' to make the past form.
to smile -- smiled
to die -- died
If a verb infinitive ends with a vowel and the letter 'y', we add '..ed'.
However, if the infinitive ends with a consonant and the letter 'y' we remove the 'y' and replace it with 'ied'.
to play -- played
to stay -- stayed
to cry -- cried
to try -- tried
The past forms of many common verbs are irregular:
to be -- was (singular), were (plural)
to have -- had
to do -- did
to make -- made
to eat -- ate
to go -- went
to drink -- drank
to think -- thought
to bring -- brought
to drive -- drove
to write -- wrote
to sing -- sang
to build -- built
Past simple usage
The past simple is used to talk about actions or states which occurred in the past. These actions do not continue in the present. The past simple does not describe the process or duration of actions: it refers to them as completed actions in finished time. Finished time means past time: It is not important if the action happened yesterday or in January 1812.
She went to Paris in 2005.
I spoke to my father last night.
Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States of America.
When we make negative statements, we can add 'did not' or 'didn't' in front of the verb infinitive. We can also use 'wasn't' or 'weren't' if the word after the subject is an adjective.
I didn't eat breakfast this morning.
I didn't go to university after I finished school.
Paul and Susan didn't marry in 1999, they married in 1998.
She wasn't happy in Berlin because it was very cold.
We weren't hungry, so we didn't eat dinner.
When we make past simple questions, we can use 'did' plus the verb infinitive if the question is positive, and 'didn't' if the question is negative. For a question that can be answered 'yes' or 'no' we can use the following form:
'Did' + subject + verb infinitive. For example:
Did you talk to Peter yesterday?
Did she receive my email?
Did she arrive on time?
Didn't he pass his exams?
We can also use 'was' or 'were' in some questions, if the subject is followed by an adjective. We can also use the negative forms 'wasn't' and 'weren't for negative questions'. For example:
Was she tired?
Were you late?
Were they on time?
Weren't you tired after working all day?
For questions which ask for information, we use the same forms, but with a question word (or phrase). Common question words are 'what, why, where, when' etc. Typical question phrases are 'what car, which house' etc. For example:
Who did you meet at the party?
When did you buy your car?
Where did you park the car?
What car did he buy?
Which house did you live in?
Common time expressions used with the Past Simple
The time expressions below are typically used with the past simple tense:
yesterday, yesterday morning, yesterday evening....(etc)
last week, last month, last year, last night....
a month ago, two weeks ago....(etc)
in 2002, on my birthday. at christmas....(etc)
during the summer....
when I was at school.....when I lived in Spain....(etc)