English Grammar: The Past Simple Tense

When you talk about something that happened in the past, use the Past Simple tense (also called the Simple Past tense).

For example:
"I live in the UK." (Present Simple tense)

"Last year I lived in France." (Past Simple tense)

When to use the Past Simple tense

We use the Past Simple tense for states and for actions:

I lived in France when I was a child. (state)
I got up early and then had a coffee. (action)

We use this tense to talk about events a long time ago and also more recent events. The important thing is that the events are in the past. For that reason we often use a time reference, such as "ago" or "last year", for example.

Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. (distant past)
I spoke to Nigel just a minute ago. (recent past)

For more information, see our page on Past Tenses in English grammar.

How to form the Past Simple tense

The Past Simple tense does not change for the third person singular:

I lived
You lived
He / she lived
We lived
They lived

For many verbs, you can add -d or -ed to the infinitive to make the past tense.

live – lived
work – worked
receive – received

Other spelling notes

When the verb ends with a consonant + -y, change the -y to -i then add -ed:

hurry – hurried
carry – carried
study – studied

When the verb has a short vowel and consonant, double the consonant:

stop – stopped
ship – shipped
admit – admitted
hug – hugged

In British English, when the verb ends with a vowel and a single "l", double the "l":

travel – travelled
label – labelled
cancel – cancelled

(This is not the case in American English, when the "l" is not doubled.)

Pronunciation

The pronunciation of the Past Simple tense is either /t/, /d/ or /id/.

worked (/t/ sound)
lived, happened (/d/ sound)
hated (/id/ sound)

The pronunciation depends on the sound of the consonant or vowel before the -ed ending. It is difficult to remember all these pronunciation rules when you speak in English, but one common mistake is to use the /id/ ending (and not the correct /d/ ending) with verbs ending in a /n/ sound. For example, say "open – d" and "happen -d" and not "open – id" or "happen – id".

The only time you need to use the /id/ sound in the Past Simple tense is with verbs that end with a /t/ or /d/ sound. For all other verbs, your mouth naturally finds either a /t/ or /d/ sound.

Questions and negatives

To make the question form, use "did" as the auxiliary verb.

("Did" is the past tense of "do" which we use as the auxiliary to make questions in the present tense. See our page on the Present Simple tense for more information.)

"Did" does not change for the third person singular:

Did you live in the UK last year?
Did he live in the UK last year?
Did we live in the UK last year?
Did they live in the UK last year?

Remember: the verb that comes after the subject is in the infinitive ("live" in the example above).

The short form replies are:

Yes, I did / No, I didn't.
Yes, you did / No, you didn't.
Yes, he did / No, he didn't
Yes, we did / No, we didn't
Yes, they did / No, they didn't

To make the negative, use "didn't" ("did not"), and then the infinitive of the verb:

I didn't study for the exam.
You didn't study for the exam.
He / she didn't study for the exam.
We didn't study for the exam.
They didn't study for the exam.

Irregular verbs

Some common verbs have irregular endings.

The past of the verb "to be" is "was" (singular) and "were" (you and plural). For more grammar information, see our page on the verb to be.

Here are some other irregular verbs

become – became
begin – began
break – broke
bring – brought
buy – bought
catch – caught
choose – chose
come – came
cost – cost
do – did
drink – drank
drive – drove
eat – ate
fall – fell
feel – felt
find – found
forget – forgot
have – had
hear – heard
get – got
give – gave
go – went
know – knew
learn – learnt / learned
leave – left
lose – lost
make – made
meet – met
pay – paid
put – put
read – read
ring – rang
run – ran
say – said
see – saw
sell – sold
send – sent
sit – sat
sleep – slept
speak – spoke
spend – spent
take – took
teach – taught
tell – told
think – thought
understand – understood
wake up – woke up
wear – wore
win – won
write – wrote

Past Simple exercise

Click the Start button below to begin the exercise. For each question, select the missing word from the choices. Then click the arrow on the right to go to the next question.
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