What is Simple Past Tense? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Time and Tense
  • 0:38 Regular Verbs
  • 1:18 Irregular Verbs
  • 2:54 Mistakes with Simple…
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Did you know verbs can tell time? I run today, but yesterday I ran. When I speak about something that has already happened, I use the past tense form of the verb. In this lesson, we will discuss what it means to use simple past tense.

Time and Tense

What is simple past tense? Simply put, it is the most basic way of expressing actions that happened in the past. But before we can dig into it, let's review a little about verb tense. Verb tense refers to when an action (the verb in a sentence) is taking place and how that time is expressed. The basic tenses are past, present, and future.

Within these basic tenses, there are more specialized tenses that describe actions' relationship to time and other events, but if you just want to describe something in the past, you will use simple past tense.

Regular Verbs

Simple past tense is indicated by use of the simple past form of the verb. For regular verbs, the difference between the simple present and simple past forms of a verb is simple; it is just a matter of adding an '-ed' to the end. So, for example, let's look at this sentence written in simple present tense:

  • John and Mary walk on the beach.

If we want to indicate this happened yesterday, instead of right now, we just add an '-ed' to 'walk:'

  • John and Mary walked on the beach yesterday.

These types of verbs are called regular verbs because they are consistent and easy to change from present to past tense: just add an '-ed.'

Irregular Verbs

Where people often run into trouble is with irregular verbs because they do not have any consistency. For example, what if John and Mary were running on the beach instead of walking:

  • John and Mary run on the beach.

To make this past tense, we wouldn't change 'run' to 'runned.' We would say:

  • John and Mary ran on the beach.

Because 'run' is irregular, it changes to 'ran' instead of 'runned.'

Further complicating irregular verbs is that often their simple past and past participle forms are not the same like they are with regular verbs. The past participle is used in a different form of past tense called past perfect along with the helping verb 'had.'

For regular verbs, the simple past and past participle are the same: the present tense with '-ed' at the end. But many irregular verbs, like 'swim,' have different simple past and past participle forms. So, for 'swim' in simple past, you would write:

  • John and Mary swam in the ocean.

But in the past perfect, which uses the helping verb 'had' and the past participle, you would write:

  • John and Mary had swum in the ocean until sundown.

Let's take a look at some regular verbs and some irregular verbs:

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