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The Past Simple. Form, Uses and a Time Line.

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A concise look at the past simple, its uses and forms including negative and question forms, as well as examples.

This article is going to explain one of the twelve tenses in the English language, the past simple. The past simple is used for when we are talking about an action that both started and finished at some point in the past. An example being She bought a new dress. The action of buying a new dress started and finished in the past. Here is a time line of the past simple.

The Past Simple Timeline


The past simple uses the past form of the verb, this can be both regular or irregular, and is also known as the past participle. The form is the subject + verb + object. For example, I ate rice for dinner. In this sentence, 'I' is the subject of the sentence, 'ate' is the verb and 'dinner' is the object of the sentence.

You can use the negative form by adding did not or didn't to the sentence, but here you use the base form of the verb instead. E.g. I didn't eat rice for dinner. Here you can see that we use the base form of the verb, eat, instead of the past form.

You can use the past simple as a question by adding a question (where, when, why, who, what, how) followed by did or didn't. E.g. Why did the chicken cross the road? or Why didn't you leave earlier?


You use the past simple to express an action that started and finished at a particular point in the past, although you don't need to state that particular time. For example, I finished work at 7 pm or She went shopping.

You can also use the past simple to express a number of actions that all started and finished in the past, for example: I finished writing, got up and went for a drink of water. Here each action, the finished writing, getting up and going for a drink of water all started and finished in the past.

Moreover, you can use the past simple to talk about habits and things you did in the past. For example, When I was 12 years old, I played tennis a lot. Here you can see that we are talking about something in the past, but it does not matter if you are still playing tennis in the present or intend to play tennis in the future because you are talking about something that you used to do in the past.

Finally, you can use the past simple to talk about an action interrupting another action and both actions happened in the past. For example, I was watching TV when the fire alarm sounded. Here 'I was watching' is the past continuous and 'the fire alarm sounded' is the past simple.

1 comment

john doe
Posted on Mar 17, 2011

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William Lake

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