Simple Past

FORM

[VERB+ed] or irregular verbs

Examples:

  • You called Debbie.
  • Did you call Debbie?
  • You did not call Debbie.

Complete List of Simple Past Forms

USE 1 Completed Action in the Past

Use the Simple Past to express the idea that an action started and finished at a specific time in the past. Sometimes, the speaker may not actually mention the specific time, but they do have one specific time in mind.

Examples:

  • I saw a movie yesterday.
  • I didn’t see a play yesterday.
  • Last year, I traveled to Japan.
  • Last year, I didn’t travel to Korea.
  • Did you have dinner last night?
  • She washed her car.
  • He didn’t wash his car.

USE 2 A Series of Completed Actions

We use the Simple Past to list a series of completed actions in the past. These actions happen 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on.

Examples:

  • I finished work, walked to the beach, and found a nice place to swim.
  • He arrived from the airport at 8:00, checked into the hotel at 9:00, and met the others at 10:00.
  • Did you add flour, pour in the milk, and then add the eggs?

USE 3 Duration in Past

The Simple Past can be used with a duration which starts and stops in the past. A duration is a longer action often indicated by expressions such as: for two years, for five minutes, all day, all year, etc.

Examples:

  • I lived in Brazil for two years.
  • Shauna studied Japanese for five years.
  • They sat at the beach all day.
  • They did not stay at the party the entire time.
  • We talked on the phone for thirty minutes.
  • A: How long did you wait for them?
    B: We waited for one hour.

USE 4 Habits in the Past

The Simple Past can also be used to describe a habit which stopped in the past. It can have the same meaning as “used to.” To make it clear that we are talking about a habit, we often add expressions such as: always, often, usually, never, when I was a child, when I was younger, etc.

Examples:

  • I studied French when I was a child.
  • He played the violin.
  • He didn’t play the piano.
  • Did you play a musical instrument when you were a kid?
  • She worked at the movie theater after school.
  • They never went to school, they always skipped class.

USE 5 Past Facts or Generalizations

The Simple Past can also be used to describe past facts or generalizations which are no longer true. As in USE 4 above, this use of the Simple Past is quite similar to the expression “used to.”

Examples:

  • She was shy as a child, but now she is very outgoing.
  • He didn’t like tomatoes before.
  • Did you live in Texas when you were a kid?
  • People paid much more to make cell phone calls in the past.

IMPORTANT When-Clauses Happen First

Clauses are groups of words which have meaning but are often not complete sentences. Some clauses begin with the word “when” such as “when I dropped my pen…” or “when class began…” These clauses are called when-clauses, and they are very important. The examples below contain when-clauses.

Examples:

  • When I paid her one dollar, she answered my question.
  • She answered my question when I paid her one dollar.

When-clauses are important because they always happen first when both clauses are in the Simple Past. Both of the examples above mean the same thing: first, I paid her one dollar, and then, she answered my question. It is not important whether “when I paid her one dollar” is at the beginning of the sentence or at the end of the sentence. However, the example below has a different meaning. First, she answered my question, and then, I paid her one dollar.

Example:

  • I paid her one dollar when she answered my question.

ADVERB PLACEMENT

The examples below show the placement for grammar adverbs such as: always, only, never, ever, still, just, etc.

Examples:

  • You just called Debbie.
  • Did you just call Debbie?

ACTIVE / PASSIVE

Examples:

  • Tom repaired the car. Active
  • The car was repaired by Tom. Passive

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