Using the Past Simple Tense

Are you wondering when to use the past simple tense? We'll learn all about that here and there are lots of examples to make things clear.

[Note: Click here to learn how to form the past simple.]

Past simple tense use #1: To describe completed actions

We use the past simple to describe a completed action in the past. The event or action may have happened once, many times or never happened. (It's over and finished and is not connected to the present).

Examples:

  • I went to the store.
  • I played tennis several times.
  • My daughter hated that movie.
  • They fought over the television remote control.
  • Roger Federer played Rafa Nadal and lost.
  • I never studied Chinese or Russian.
  • The plant needed sunlight. It slowly died

Use #2:  To describe past situations / things

We learned above that we can use this tense to talk about actions but we can also describe situations and what other things were like with the past simple.

  • We lived in Spain for ten years.
  • My father was a very kind man.
  • needed a husband who was more supportive and sensitive.
  • It was a cold, windy morning.
  • As children, we were very naughty and made our mother angry.
  • What were your favorite restaurants when you stayed in New York?


Use #3:  To talk about a series of past events

We use the simple past to talk about different things that we did one after the other.

Examples:

  • This morning, I slept late, stayed in my pajamas all day and ate ice cream from the box.
  • To get here I walked to the bus stop, rode two stops and then transferred to the train.
  • She cooked dinner, set the table and served wine but didn't eat anything with us.
  • I watched television, talked to my friend and then went to bed.
  • They laughed, cried and hugged each other before they said goodbye.
  • I called my mother, sent an email to my father and texted my brother the good news.

Use #4:  With completed time expressions

We use the past simple tense for actions with common time expressions that show something happened in the past:

  • last night / week / month / year / summer / etc.
  • the week / month / year / etc.  before last
  • Yesterday / the other day / the day before yesterday
  • awhile / a month / year / minute / decade / two days / etc. ago
  • In 2005, in the 1970s, In the Middle Ages 

Here are some more examples using these expressions:

  • Last night  my ex-boyfriend called  me when he was drunk again.
  • I forgot to call my girlfriend yesterday.
  • The week before last  I was late for work every day.
  • We vacationed in the Maldives last summer.
  • Did you listen to rap music in the 1990s ?
  • Who did we see the other day  at the party?
  • I finished my homework awhile ago.
  • I last had a check-up at the dentist two years ago.

Use #5:  In the second conditional

We use the past simple tense as part of phrases using the second conditional.

Examples:

  • If I lived in Paris, I would speak French everyday.
  • You would make many new friends if you learned English.
  • If we earned more money, we would travel more often.
  • If he had the time, he would visit us everyday.
  • My father would lose weight if he exercised more and ate less food.
  • "If I were a boy, I think I could understand how it feels to love a girl." — Beyoncé Knowles

If you need to review how to form the past simple tense please check this page. I go over the positive and negative forms, questions, spelling and give lots of examples.

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