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Past simple

From Teflpedia

The past simple is an aspectual tense that combines the past tense with the simple aspect. For example, “I did something.” This has various uses in English.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

The past tense is used when speakers wish to distance the situation — in vividness, reality or directness. Typical uses include:

  1. Single past action in the past: Emma woke up at 6.30.
  2. Past repeated actions: I played football twice a week when I was at school.
  3. Past state: Peter was ill for the last ten years of his life.
  4. Polite conversation marker (present or future): Excuse me. I wondered if you had a few minutes after the meeting…
  5. Present regret: I wish I had a job that paid more.
  6. Counterfactual present: The children would understand if they were older.
  7. Hypothetical future (viewed as not very probable): If I didn’t get my degree next year, my father would be very disappointed.

Form[edit | edit source]

As this uses the past tense, finite verbs are inflected into their preterite form. Irregular verbs have irregular preterites. No aspect is present, meaning that questions and negatives use auxiliary do as an auxiliary verb.

For example:

  • I went to the park.
  • Did you go to the park?
  • I didn’t go to the park.
  • Didn’t you go to the park?

Time expressions[edit | edit source]

The following time expressions are often used with the past simple tense in English:

  1. yesterday,
  2. a week [month, year] ago,
  3. last [month, year, weekend, Monday] night,
  4. the day before yesterday,
  5. two days [months, years] ago.


  1. I was late yesterday.
  2. I arrived the day before yesterday.
  3. I met him a week ago at the train station.

Appropriacy[edit | edit source]

The past simple is commonly used in narration.

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

This is usually the third aspectual tense taught to EFL learners. They will see it extensively used in narrative fiction.

References[edit | edit source]