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Simple past tense

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The simple past is mainly used to describe an action that has taken place in the past and has been completed.

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Simple past formation

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The regular formation of the preterite in English

Infinitive + “-ed“

The formation of the simple past is also simple. Because from a normal sentence, you only have to attach an “-ed” to the end of the verb.


„did not“  +  Infinitive

Likewise, the negation is very simple, since you only have to put a “did not” in front of your verb, which is in the infinitive. However, you must always follow the word order. That is, subject, predicate, Object!!!



However, there are many verbs needed for the formation of the normal sentence, which are irregular. While learning your vocabulary, you should also learn these forms. In addition, you will usually find a list of important irregular verbs at the end of your book. Incase you do not have: the 100 most important irregular verbs!

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What do you have to consider when using the Simple Past?

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Irregular verbs (“was” or “were”):

Besides the normal irregular verbs, there is also the special case of “to be”. In this case, there are two forms, one being “was” and the other “were”. In fact, this is very easy to distinguish, since “was” is used in the singular, except for “you” and “were” in the plural. In addition, “were” is still being used in the singular in “you”.



1. Verb is at the end of consonant + “-y”:

Here, the “-y” becomes an “-i”:

  • tidy becomes tidied


2. If the verb ends with “-e”

Thus, the formation of the simple past form, eliminates the “-e”:

  •  love becomes loved
  • like becomes liked


3. If the verb ends with “-er”, “-ur” or “-ir”:

Thus, the “-r” doubles in the formation of the simple past form:

  • prefer becomes preferred


4. If the verb ends with a consonant where there is a simple, short, stressed vowel:

Thus, this consonant doubles.

  • stop becomes stopped

(Vowel = a, e, i , o, u)


Don’t be confused:

Important: “did not” is synonymous with “didn’t”.

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Simple past example

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normal simple past sentence

I learned.


negative sentence

I did not learn.  /  I didn’t learn.



Did I learn?

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Simple past signal words

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Fortunately, there are many signal words:

  • yesterday
  • the day before yesterday
  • a month / two years  ago
  • in 2016
  • last week / month / year
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How the past tense is used in English!

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  • Basically, the “simple past” is used especially when you want to report something that has happened in the past and is already completed.
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Frequently Asked Questions:

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When is it ideal to use simple past and present perfect?

The most striking difference is already in the respective German translation, the Simple Past stands for the Preterite in English and the Present Perfect for the English Perfect. Furthermore, the Simple Past (English imperfect) is used to describe actions that have started in the past and have also been completed in the past. On the other hand, the Present Perfect is used to describe actions that have started in the past and still persist.

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What is the difference between simple past and present perfect?

Thus, the main difference between the English imperfect and the English perfect lies in whether the action continues in the present. With the simple past it does not, but with the Past Present Perfect.

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What is the simple past for a tense?

The simple Past (English Preterite) is the so-called first past tense, that is, it describes actions that have just happened.

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How do you recognize the Simple Past?

There are several possibilities: On the one hand, you can recognize the Simple Past directly on the form in which the verb stands, for example, if the verb has an “ed” ending and no auxiliary verb before it, the sentence is in Simple Past.

But if it is a verb that is formed irregularly and therefore you cannot interpret it by its ending, you have to devote yourself to the signal words:

  • Yesterday
  • The day before yesterday
  • A month/two years ago
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When does the verb in simple past need an ed?

In simple past time, the verb only needs an “ed” ending if it is a normal/positive sentence. That means you don’t need the “ed” for a question or a negative sentence. An example of a normal sentence is:

I learned.

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How to best learn simple past?

This is very individual and depends on your type of learning. However, you can do it with the help of better English grades, regardless of whether you do the visual learning, the listening learning, or the reading learning.

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When do you write in Simple Past?

In simple past, you write when you want to describe an action that has both started and ended in the past.

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How do you form the simple past passive?

As with normal passive formation, the object and the subject exchange the roles, so the sentence begins with the actual object and then the verb follows the backshift. Finally, the actual subject of the sentence is what a “by” stands for. An example:



I learned English


English was learned by me.

Further information on passive formation: passive in English

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About me

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Hey, I used to think that language learning was innate. Either you can speak English or not and it doesn’t matter how much you learn -“Anyway I don’t record good grades in English.” And that’s where English is so important.


After a while, I gave myself one last chance to learn English. Only this time I limited myself to the essential points.

For me, that meant verbs: formation – examples – signal words & usage

This method enabled me to learn English faster than ever before.


Since then I know that learning languages is not innate. And through that realization, my vision has become to offer other students the opportunity to learn English, just like I did back then. Now I ask you to help me by sharing this article with your friends!

Thank you very much!

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Simple Past Tense
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