The Simple Past Tense

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CHAPTER 5.  THE SIMPLE PAST

1. Uses of the simple past

The uses of the Simple Past are somewhat similar to the uses of the Simple Present, except that past states or actions are expressed. In the examples given below, the verbs in the Simple Past are underlined.

For instance, the Simple Past can be used to express actions which occurred at regular intervals in the past.
e.g. Last year I drove to Yarmouth once a week.

In addition, the Simple Past is used to describe situations which existed for a period of time in the past.
e.g. Millions of years ago, dinosaurs inhabited the earth.
George Washington was the first president of the United States.

The Simple Past is also used to express non-continuous actions which occurred at a definite time in the past.
e.g. Columbus reached America in 1492.
graduated from school last year.

 

2. Formation of the simple past

a. The verb To Be
The Simple Past of the verb to be is conjugated as follows:

I was
you were
he was
she was
it was
we were
they were


See Exercise 1.

i. Questions and negative statements
The Simple Present and Simple Past of the verb to be do not use auxiliaries to form questions and negative statements. Instead, the verb itself is used.

The verb to be forms questions and negative statements in the same way in the Simple Past as in the Simple Present. In order to form a question, the verb is placed before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement Question
  I was awake.   Was I awake?
  They were ready.   Were they ready?

In order to form a negative statement, the word not is placed after the verb. For example:

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement
  I was awake.   I was not awake.
 They were ready.   They were not ready.

In spoken English, the following contractions are often used:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  was not   wasn’t
  were not   weren’t

In order to form a negative question, the verb is placed before the subject, and the word not is placed after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not immediately follows the verb. For example:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  Was I not awake?   Wasn’t I awake?
  Were they not ready?   Weren’t they ready?

In order to form tag questions, the verb itself is used. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions.

Affirmative Statement Affirmative Statement with Tag Question
  I was awake.   I was awake, wasn’t I?
  They were ready.   They were ready, weren’t they?

See Exercise 2.

b. Other verbs
English verbs other than the verb to be have the same form in the Simple Past, regardless of the subject.

In the case of regular English verbs, the Simple Past has the same form as the past participle. For example, the Simple Past of the regular verb to work is conjugated as follows:

I worked
you worked
he worked
she worked
it worked
we worked
they worked


See Exercise 3.

In the case of irregular English verbs, the form of the Simple Past must be memorized. As illustrated by the examples below, for some irregular verbs, the Simple Past is the same as the past participle; whereas for others, the Simple Past differs from the past participle. A table of 140 common English irregular verbs is provided. For example:

Bare Infinitive Simple Past Past Participle
  begin   began   begun
  find   found   found
  go   went   gone
  let   let   let
  take   took   taken

Like the regular verbs, irregular verbs other than the verb to be do not modify in the Simple Past, but have the same form, regardless of the subject. For example, the Simple Past of the irregular verb to take is conjugated as follows:

I took
you took
he took
she took
it took
we took
they took


See Exercise 4.

i. Questions and negative statements
In both the Simple Present and the Simple Past of verbs other than the verb to be, questions and negative statements are formed using the auxiliary to do and the bare infinitive.

For questions and negative statements in the Simple Past, the Simple Past of the auxiliary to do is used. The Simple Past of to do is conjugated as follows:

I did
you did
he did
she did
it did
we did
they did


In order to change an affirmative statement into a questiondid is placed before the subject, and the form of the verb is changed from the Simple Past to the bare infinitive. In the following example, the regular verb to work is used. The verb to work has the Simple Past worked, and the bare infinitive work.

Affirmative Statement Question
  I worked.   Did I work?
  You worked.   Did you work?
  He worked.   Did he work?
  She worked.   Did she work?
  It worked.   Did it work?
  We worked.   Did we work?
  They worked.   Did they work?

See Exercise 5.

In order to change an affirmative statement into a negative statementdid not is placed after the subject, and the form of the verb is changed to the bare infinitive. In the following example, the irregular verb to speak is used. The verb to speak has the bare infinitive speak and the Simple Past spoke.

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement
  I spoke.   I did not speak.
  You spoke.   You did not speak.
  He spoke.   He did not speak.
  She spoke.   She did not speak.
  It spoke.   It did not speak.
  We spoke.   We did not speak.
  They spoke.   They did not speak.

See Exercise 6.

In spoken English, the following contraction is often used:

Without Contraction With Contraction
  did not   didn’t

In order to change an affirmative statement into a negative Questiondid is placed before the subject, not is placed after the subject, and the form of the verb is changed to the bare infinitive. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not follows immediately after the auxiliary did. For example:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  Did I not work?   Didn’t I work?
  Did you not work?   Didn’t you work?
  Did he not work?   Didn’t he work?
  Did she not work?   Didn’t she work?
  Did it not work?   Didn’t it work?
  Did we not work?   Didn’t we work?
  Did they not work?   Didn’t they work?

Tag questions are formed using the auxiliary did. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions.

Affirmative Statement Affirmative Statement with Tag Question
  I worked.   I worked, didn’t I?
  You worked.   You worked, didn’t you?
  He worked.   He worked, didn’t he?
  She worked.   She worked, didn’t she?
  It worked.   It worked, didn’t it?
  We worked.   We worked, didn’t we?
  They worked.   They worked, didn’t they?

See Exercise 7.

 

3. The simple past of To Use followed by an infinitive

The Simple Past of the verb to use, followed by an infinitive, generally refers to something which took place repeatedly or continuously in the past, but which no longer takes place.

In the following examples, the Simple Past of to use is printed in bold type, and the infinitives which follow it are underlined. The Simple Past of to use is used.
e.g. The ferry used to operate every day.
We used to live on Duke Street.

In the first example, the use of used followed by the infinitive indicates that in the past the ferry operated every day, but now it does not operate every day. In the second example, the use of used followed by the infinitive indicates that in the past we lived on Duke Street, but now we do not live on Duke Street.

See Exercise 8.

EXERCISES for Chapter 5

1. Using the Simple Past tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verb to be. For example:
I ___ calm.
was calm.

You ____ right.
You were right.

1. He ________ happy.
2. We _________ students.
3. They ________ ambitious.
4. You _________ clever.
5. It _________ hot.
6. I _________ busy.
7. We _________ patient.
8. She _________ eleven years old.
9. They ________ intelligent.
10. He _________ in a hurry.

2. Rewrite the following affirmative statements as questions, negative statements, negative questions without contractions, negative questions with contractions, and affirmative statements followed by negative tag questions. For example:
You were on time.
Were you on time?
You were not on time.
Were you not on time?
Weren’t you on time?
You were on time, weren’t you?

It was warm enough.
Was it warm enough?
It was not warm enough.
Was it not warm enough?
Wasn’t it warm enough?
It was warm enough, wasn’t it?

1. I was late.
2. They were in a hurry.
3. He was an artist.
4. We were right.
5. She was there.

3. Paying attention to the correct spelling, fill in the blanks with the Simple Past of the regular verbs shown in brackets. For example:
It _______ raining. (to stop)
It stopped raining.

I _________ myself. (to disguise)
disguised myself.

1. She _____________ through the book. (to flip)
2. We _____________ the traffic. (to watch)
3. You _____________ the flowers carefully. (to arrange)
4. He _____________ about his success. (to brag)
5. They _____________ sightseeing. (to enjoy)
6. He _____________ us with pencils. (to supply)
7. I _____________ the child. (to reassure)
8. We _____________ for them. (to wait)
9. They _____________ the books overseas. (to ship)
10. She ____________ too much. (to worry)

4. Referring to the table of English irregular verbs if necessary, fill in the blanks with the Simple Past tense of the irregular verbs shown in brackets. For example:
They _____ a song. (to write)
They wrote a song.

We _____ the floor. (to sweep)
We swept the floor.

1. She ____________ the dishes. (to do)
2. They ___________ for a walk. (to go)
3. He __________ his time. (to take)
4. I ___________ the beds. (to make)
5. They ___________ to catch the bus. (to run)
6. She ___________ up quickly. (to get)
7. You ___________ the coffee. (to drink)
8. We ___________ soundly. (to sleep)
9. He ___________ his books. (to forget)
10. I ___________ the house. (to leave)

5. Paying attention to the correct forms of the bare infinitives, change the following affirmative statements into questions. For example:
He lifted the suitcase.
Did he lift the suitcase?

I paid the rent.
Did I pay the rent?

1. She hurried to school.
2. They carried the parcels.
3. You closed the door.
4. I plugged in the lamp.
5. They planned the party.
6. We taught the class.
7. She told a story.
8. They struck a bargain.
9. He met his friends.
10. I shook hands.

6. Paying attention to the correct forms of the bare infinitives, change the following affirmative statements into negative statements. For example:
I scanned the newspaper.
I did not scan the newspaper.

They flew to Toronto.
They did not fly to Toronto.

1. We enjoyed ourselves.
2. She pinned on the brooch.
3. I fanned myself.
4. They emptied their pockets.
5. You replied at once.
6. He went to work.
7. We swam across the river.
8. They took the bus.
9. I shut the windows.
10. You ran fast.

7. Paying attention to the correct forms of the bare infinitives, change the following affirmative statements into negative questions. Give both the forms without contractions and the forms with contractions. For example:
You walked quickly.
Did you not walk quickly?
Didn’t you walk quickly?

He burst the balloon.
Did he not burst the balloon?
Didn’t he burst the balloon?

1. You watched the game.
2. I climbed the ladder.
3. We pleased the visitors.
4. They canned the peaches.
5. He received the letter.
6. You saw the fireworks.
7. It cost five dollars.
8. She hit the ball.
9. He did his homework.
10. They cut the ribbon.

8. Rewrite the following sentences, changing the underlined verbs from the Simple Past to the form with used followed by the infinitive. For example:
They took the bus.
They used to take the bus.

She traveled every year.
She used to travel every year.

1. It snowed heavily.
2. I came often.
3. We were neighbors.
4. He wrote many letters.
5. They walked to work.
6. He teased us.
7. She told us stories.
8. You rode a bicycle.

ANSWERS TO THE EXERCISES for Chapter 5

Answers to Exercise 1:
1. was 2. were 3. were 4. were 5. was 6. was 7. were 8. was 9. were 10. was

Answers to Exercise 2:
1. Was I late? I was not late. Was I not late? Wasn’t I late? I was late, wasn’t I?
2. Were they in a hurry? They were not in a hurry. Were they not in a hurry? Weren’t they In a hurry? They were in a hurry, weren’t they?
3. Was he an artist? He was not an artist. Was he not an artist? Wasn’t he an artist? He was an artist, wasn’t he?
4. Were we right? We were not right. Were we not right? Weren’t we right? We were right, weren’t we?
5. Was she there? She was not there. Was she not there? Wasn’t she there? She was there, wasn’t she?

Answers to Exercise 3:
1. flipped 2. watched 3. arranged 4. bragged 5. enjoyed 6. supplied 7. reassured 8. waited 9. shipped 10. worried

Answers to Exercise 4:
1. did 2. went 3. took 4. made 5. ran 6. got 7. drank 8. slept 9. forgot 10. left

Answers to Exercise 5:
1. Did she hurry to school? 2. Did they carry the parcels? 3. Did you close the door? 4. Did I plug in the lamp? 5. Did they plan the party? 6. Did we teach the class? 7. Did she tell a story? 8. Did they strike a bargain? 9. Did he meet his friends? 10. Did I shake hands?

Answers to Exercise 6:
1. We did not enjoy ourselves. 2. She did not pin on the brooch. 3. I did not fan myself. 4. They did not empty their pockets. 5. You did not reply at once. 6. He did not go to work. 7. We did not swim across the river. 8. They did not take the bus. 9. I did not shut the windows. 10. You did not run fast.

Answers to Exercise 7:
1. Did you not watch the game? Didn’t you watch the game?
2. Did I not climb the ladder? Didn’t I climb the ladder?
3. Did we not please the visitors? Didn’t we please the visitors?
4. Did they not can the peaches? Didn’t they can the peaches?
5. Did he not receive the letter? Didn’t he receive the letter?
6. Did you not see the fireworks? Didn’t you see the fireworks?
7. Did it not cost five dollars? Didn’t it cost five dollars?
8. Did she not hit the ball? Didn’t she hit the ball?
9. Did he not do his homework? Didn’t he do his homework?
10. Did they not cut the ribbon? Didn’t they cut the ribbon?

Answers to Exercise 8:
1. It used to snow heavily. 2. I used to come often. 3. We used to be neighbors. 4. He used to write many letters. 5. They used to walk to work. 6. He used to tease us. 7. She used to tell us stories. 8. You used to ride a bicycle.

If you find any mistake in the questions or need an explanation for the correct answer, please let us know by leaving a comment below. We will immediately correct the mistake or try to explain the answer as much as possible.

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