This page explains how to form a verb in the simple past and gives detailed examples of when it is the appropriate form to be used.
FORM: [VERB+ed] or irregular verbs
- You called Debbie.
- Did you call Debbie?
- You dreamt about Debbie?
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.
- I saw a movie yesterday.
- Last year, I travelled to Korea.
- 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.
- 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 ction often indicated by expressions such as: for two years, for five minutes, all day, all year, etc.
- I lived in Brazil for two years.
- Shauna studied Japanese for five years.
- They sat at the beach all day.
- We talked on the phone for thirty minutes.
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.
- I studied French when I was a child.
- He played the violin.
- Did you play a musical instrument when you were a kid?
- She worked at the movie theatre after school.
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."
- 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?
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.
- 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.
- I paid her one dollar when she answered my question.