Simple Past Tense

Simple past tense

Form of the simple past tense

Past time expressions


Common Past Time Expressions
Example Sentences
Similar Expressions
(one day before today)
I walked to work yesterday.
Yesterday, I walked to work.
yesterday morning
yesterday evening
yesterday afternoon
the day before yesterday(two days before today)
Redd bought a house the day before yesterday.
The day before yesterday, Redd bought a house.
the week before last (week)
the night before last (night)
last night
(the most recent night)
Avril travelled to Halifax last month.
Last month, Avril travelled to Halifax.
last time
last week
last month
last year
this morning
(an earlier time on the same day)
Kathleen called me this morning.
This morning, Kathleen called me.
this afternoon
this evening
one week ago(a specific period of time in the past)
Kenneth and his wife had a baby one week ago.
One week ago, Kenneth and his wife had a baby.
an (one) hour agoa (one) day ago = yesteddaya (one) month ago =last montha (one) year ago = last year
in 1990
(a specific point in the past)
Darren finished university in 1990.
In 1990, Darren finished university.
in 1970
in March
on Sunday
when + subject + past tense verb
(a specific period of time, event, or point in the past)
Paul played basketball when he was a student.
When he was a student, Paul played basketball.
when I was born
when John finished high school
when I turned 18

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.
  • saw a movie yesterday.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.



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