Simple Past Tense | Examples & Exercises

The simple past tense is a verb form used to refer to an action or series of actions that were completed in the past.

The simple past tense of regular verbs is formed by adding “-ed” to the infinitive form of the verb (e.g., “cook” becomes “cooked”). Most verbs in the simple past take the same form regardless of the subject (e.g., “He worked/we worked”).

Simple Past Tense Forms

How to use the simple past

The simple past tense (also called the past simple or preterite) is used to describe an action or series of actions that occurred in the past.

The past simple of regular verbs is typically formed by adding “-ed” to the end of the infinitive (e.g., “talk” becomes “talked”).

Irregular verbs don’t follow a specific pattern: some take the same form as the infinitive (e.g., “put”), while others change completely (e.g., “go” becomes “went”).

Most verbs in the simple past tense don’t follow subject-verb agreement (i.e., they don’t change form depending on the subject).

Examples:
The concert ended at midnight.

Ariana rented a car and drove to the coast.

We visited a museum, walked the Champs-Élysées, and dined at a fancy restaurant.

I saw the sunrise this morning.

Forming the simple past

The simple past of regular verbs is usually formed by adding “-ed” to the end of the verb (e.g., “guess” becomes “guessed”). However, this can vary depending on the verb’s ending.

Original ending Simple past ending Example
-e -add “d” love; loved
short verbs, where the last three letters follow a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern -double the last letter and add “-ed” stop; stopped

plan; planned

long verbs with a stressed syllable at the end, where the last three letters follow a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern -double the last letter and add “-ed” prefer; preferred

admit; admitted

Consonant + y -ied (replacing the “y”) try; tried
Note
Verbs that end in a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern where the final letter is “w,” “x,” or “y” usually don’t have their final consonant doubled (e.g., “mix” becomes “mixed”).

Verbs that end in a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern where the final syllable is not stressed also don’t have their final letter doubled (e.g., “enter” becomes “entered”).

Irregular verb: “be”

The stative verb “be” in the simple past tense is used to describe unchanging past conditions (e.g., “My father was a good man”) and temporary past situations (e.g., “The children were tired”). Unlike other verbs in the simple past, “be” changes form depending on the subject, as shown in the table below.

Subject Verb
I was
You were
He/she/it was
We were
You were
They were

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Present perfect vs. past simple

Both the present perfect and past simple tenses are used to refer to past action. However, they serve different purposes:

  • The present perfect is used to refer to an action that began in the past and may continue or to an action that took place in the past and has present consequences.
  • The past simple is typically used to describe an action that was completed in the past and is not ongoing.
Examples: Present perfect vs. past simple
I ran a marathon last month.

I have run a marathon before. [I may run a marathon again]

I was a vegetarian when I was younger.

I have been a vegetarian for two years. [I am still a vegetarian]

Note
The simple past form of a regular verb is the same as its past participle form (e.g. “I cooked” and “I have cooked”). However, the past participle form of an irregular verb may not be the same as its past simple form (e.g., “John went” vs. “John has gone”). If you’re unsure which form is correct, check a dictionary.

Simple past vs. past perfect

While the past simple is used to describe an action or series of actions that occurred in the past, the past perfect is used to indicate that an action was completed before another past action began.

Examples: Simple past vs. past perfect
The guests drank, danced, and ate cake.

The guests had eaten the cake by the time Sophia arrived.

How to form negatives

In the past simple tense, negative statements are formed by adding “did not” (or the contraction “didn’t”) between the subject and the infinitive form of the verb.

Examples: Negative past simple sentences
Julio did not respond to my message.

The audience members didn’t enjoy the performance.

For the verb “be,” negative statements are formed by adding “was not/were not” (or the contractions “wasn’t/weren’t”) after the subject.

Examples: Negative form of the verb “be”
Joan wasn’t happy with the result.

The students were not prepared for the exam.

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How to form questions

To ask a yes–no question using the simple past, add “did” before the subject and the infinitive form of the verb.

Examples: Simple past tense questions
Did you go to the theater last night?

Did Andy forget to file the report?

To ask a question starting with a wh-word (an interrogative pronoun like “who” or an interrogative adverb like “where”), follow the same word order as above, but add the pronoun or adverb at the start of the sentence.

Examples: Simple past questions with wh-words
Who did you meet at the party?

Why did Eva leave so early?

When did Jose call?

Note
Some questions using interrogative pronouns or interrogative adverbs may take a different form. For example, the interrogative pronoun “who” can be used before the past simple form of a verb to ask who performed a specific action in the past (e.g., “Who cleaned the kitchen?”).

How to form the passive voice

Passive sentences are ones in which the subject is not the person or thing performing the action. Instead, the subject is the person or thing being acted upon.

In the past simple, passive constructions are formed using a subject, “was”/“were,” and the past participle of the verb.

Examples: Past simple passive constructions
The thieves were quickly arrested.

Maria was ignored by the salesman.

The gift was stolen.

Exercises: Simple past tense

Practice using the simple past correctly with the exercises below. In the blank space in each sentence, fill in the correct simple past form based on the subject and verb specified (e.g., “[he / talk]” becomes “he talked”). Some answers may also be negative statements or questions.

  1. __________ [you / go] to the shop this morning.
  2. __________ [they / play] a board game.
  3. __________ [my son / not / study] for the exam.
  4. __________ [the band / rehearse] every day this week.
  5. __________ [I / plan] to be home by six!
  6. When __________ [you / travel] to France?
  1. You went to the shop this morning.
    • The simple past form of the irregular verb “go” is “went.”
  1. They played a board game.
    • The simple past form of the regular verb “play” is “played.”
  1. My son did not study for the exam.
    • In the simple past tense, negative statements are formed by adding “did not” (or the contraction “didn’t”) between the subject (“my son”) and the infinitive form of the verb (“study”).
  1. The band rehearsed every day this week.
    • The simple past form of the regular verb “rehearse” is “rehearsed.”
  1. I planned to be home by six.
    • For short verbs, where the last three letters follow a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (e.g., “plan”), you double the final consonant and add “-ed.”
  1. When did you travel to France?
    • To ask a question starting with a wh-word, add the wh-word at the start of the sentence, followed by “did,” the subject (“you”), and the infinitive form of the verb (“travel”).

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If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

Frequently asked questions about the simple past tense

What is the simple past form of “read”?

The simple past tense of the verb “read” is “read” (e.g., “I read a book last week”).

While “read” is spelled the same in both its past and present forms, its pronunciation differs depending on the tense:

  • The simple present form is pronounced “reed.”
  • The simple past form is pronounced “red.”
What is the simple past form of “teach”?

The simple past tense of the verb “teach” is “taught” (e.g., “You taught me a lesson”).

While the simple past of a regular verb is typically formed by adding “-ed” to the end of the infinitive (e.g., “talk” becomes “talked”), irregular verbs like “teach” don’t follow a specific pattern.

What is the simple past form of “go”?

The simple past tense of the verb “go” is “went” (e.g., “Ava went to Spain”).

While the simple past of a regular verb is typically formed by adding “-ed” to the end of the infinitive (e.g., “jump” becomes “jumped”), irregular verbs like “go” don’t follow a specific pattern.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.