Simple Past Tense: Rules, Examples, Exercise

Simple Past Tense: How to Use It, With Examples

Simple Past Tense: grammar for beginners

The simple past tense is used to describe actions or events that occurred and were completed in the past. This tense does not have a direct connection to the present.

Using the simple past tense in English

The simple past is used to describe:

  • Completed actions in the past.
  • Events that happened at a specific point in time.
  • Sequences of actions in the past.
  • Habits or states in the past


  • worked yesterday.
  • She did not watch the movie.
  • Did he go to the party?

Time markers for the simple past tense

Time marker words in English are used to identify when an action occurred, and help us understand that the simple past tense should be used. Here are some of the most common time markers for the simple past:

  1. yesterday:
    • I walked in the park yesterday.
  2. the day before yesterday:
    • He listened to music the day before yesterday.
  3. last week/month/year:
    • I visited my relatives last month.
  4. a day ago/ten days ago/a week ago/a month ago/a year ago:
    • She saw a bear five days ago.
  5. in 2010:
    • He met his best friend in 2010.
  6. on Tuesday/Wednesday, etc.
    • They went to the library on Tuesday.
  7. during the holidays:
    • I was in the country during the holidays.
  8. when I was 5:
    • I had a dog when I was 5.
  9. at 10 o’clock:
    • I did my homework at 10 o’clock.

Time markers help identify that an action took place in the past, and that the past tense form of the verb should be used. They can come at the beginning or end of a sentence and often point to a specific moment in the past. Knowing these markers will help you properly use the simple past tense in sentences.

Structure for forming sentences with the simple past

The structure of the simple past depends on the type of sentence:

  • Affirmative Sentences: Subject + Verb in the past form (for regular verbs add -ed to the base form, for irregular verbs use the special past form)
    • I talked.
  • Negative Sentences: Subject + did not + Verb in the base form
    • I did not talk.
  • Question Sentences: Did + Subject + Verb in the base form?
    • Did I talk?

Rules for regular verbs in the simple past

The simple past is formed by adding -ed to the base form of the verb (the infinitive without “to”). Let’s look at the details:

  • If a regular verb ends in a vowel -e, add -d:
    • love → loved
    • live → lived
  • For some regular verbs ending in a vowel other than -e, add -ed:
    • play → played
    • stay → stayed
  • For most regular verbs ending in a vowel+y, add -ed:
    • enjoy → enjoyed
    • employ → employed
  • If a regular verb ends in consonant+y, change -y to -i and add -ed:
    • study → studied
    • carry → carried
  • If a regular verb ends in consonant + vowel + consonant, double the final consonant before adding -ed:
    • stop → stopped
    • plan → planned
  • If a word has more than one syllable and the stress is on the final syllable ending in consonant + vowel + consonant, the final consonant is doubled before adding -ed:
    • refer → referred
    • admit → admitted
  • However, if the stress is not on the final syllable, the final consonant is not doubled. For example:
    • offer → offered
    • enter → entered
  • It’s also important to note there are exceptions to this rule, such as the verbs travel and cancel in British English, which double the final consonant even when the stress is not on the final syllable:
    • travel → travelled
    • cancel → cancelled

Rules for Irregular verbs in the simple past

Irregular verbs have unique past tense forms that need to be memorized. There are no rules like there are for regular verbs, but there is a table of irregular verb forms that simply needs to be committed to memory. Examples of some irregular verbs:

  • go → went
  • see → saw

Exercise to practice using the simple past

Write the correct Past Simple form of the verb in brackets.

She and her friend both   the exam (fail).

Your students me a plenty of questions at the last double lesson (ask).

She tea for her guests (make).

We everything about that event (know).

I wrong and apologized to him (be).

She much about this problem (think).

I the article well (understand).

My mother a new dress last week (buy).

I all your books on the shelf over there (put).

I this box on the beach yesterday (find).

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