Past simple tense

Past simple tense

By Alena Lien, 

18 November 2020

Click below to expand each section. 


Usually the past simple tense is formed with the past tense form of different verbs, but you might have also seen different English explanations that include the past tense of "be."

Form: with "be"

Affirmative sentences

[subject] + ["was/were"]

The verb "to be" is an irregular verb and should not be contracted - both in written and spoken English.

Past tense conjugations of "be":

  • I was

  • You were

  • We were

  • They were

  • He was

  • She was

  • It was

  • "I was really tired after all the packing."

  • "We were in the garden when dad came home."

Negative sentences

[subject] + ["was/were not"]

  • "I asked Eve if she wanted to play games but she wasn't in the mood."

  • "They weren't able to attend the wedding."


["was/were"] + [subject]

[question word] + ["was/were"] + [subject]

Question words are:

  • Who

  • What

  • When

  • Why

  • Where

  • Which

  • How

  • "Was it any good?"

  • "What were they up to?"

It is possible to make negative questions even though their use is quite specific. The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. However, contracted forms are preferred in general.

Contracted form:

["wasn't/weren't"] + [subject]

[question word] + ["wasn't/weren't"] + [subject]

  • "Wasn't it any good?"

  • "What weren't they up to?"

Full form:

["was/were"] + [subject] + ["not"]

[question word] + ["was/were"] + [subject] + ["not"]

  • "Was it not any good?"

  • "What were they not up to?"

Form: with different verbs

Affirmative sentences

[subject] + [past tense form of main verb]

Although "-d/-ed" is usually added to the base form of the verb to make the past tense for regular verbs, extra care should be taken with irregular verbs.

  • "I watched a movie last night."

  • "He only wrote one book in his lifetime."

Negative sentences

[subject] + ["did not"] + [base form of main verb]

It is possible to have the verb "do" as both the auxiliary and main verb. "Did not" can be contracted to "didn't."

  • "I didn't do anything the past week. I only watched TV."

  • "We didn't enjoy the movie at all."


["did"] + [subject] + [base form of main verb]

[question word] + ["did"] + [subject] + [base form of main verb]

Question words are:

  • Who

  • What

  • When

  • Why

  • Where

  • Which

  • How

Here, it is also possible to have the verb "do" as both the auxiliary and main verb.

  • "Did they do anything to help you?"

  • "Who did you call?"

Negative questions

Contracted form:

["didn't"] + [subject] + [base form of main verb]

[question word] + ["didn't"] + [subject] + [base form of main verb]

  • "Didn't they do anything to help you?"

  • "Why didn't you talk to them?"

Full form:

["do/does"] + [subject] + ["not"] + [base form of main verb]

[question word] + ["do/does"] + [subject] + ["not"] + [base form of main verb]

  • "Did they not do anything to help you?"

  • "Why did you not talk to them?"

Dynamic vs Static verbs




Here, all the events are assumed to be completed or finished because they happened in the past.

1.   To talk about completed actions in the past.

The time can either be specified or unspecified

+   Time expressions - refers to the past like "yesterday," "last month," or "in 2010."

  • "I visited Tasmania last month."

  • "Wally was at the office yesterday."

-   No time expressions - the tense assumes it happened in the past.

  • "Who painted the Mona Lisa?"

  • "They were happy about the results."

2.   To describe past habits or routines.

  • "I read a lot of books when I was in school."

  • "He was quite active in sports last year until he moved overseas."

3.   To express states - either with the verb "be" or with stative verbs.

Stative verbs (or event verbs) - indicate a state or condition that do not show qualities of change or progress. 

These are not normally used in continuous tenses. Examples include "feel," "look," and "smell."

"Be" (verb) is both stative and dynamic, as are the verbs, "think," "be," "have," "see" and "taste." 

However, these are used here in their stative forms.

  • "He was drunk after all the food and alcohol."

  • "Did you feel the chill just now?"

  • "Eve looked tired."

4.   To describe a series of past events.

Sometimes when we use the past simple followed by another past simple, it becomes a sequence of events. For this, we do not usually use stative verbs.

  • "I woke up and had breakfast."

  • "Wally finished work, drove home, and had dinner with his family."

More verb tenses