What is the Past Tense in English? - Examples & Overview

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  • 0:01 What Is the Past Tense?
  • 0:31 Simple Past Tense
  • 0:59 Past-Progressive Tense
  • 1:49 Past-Perfect and…
  • 3:29 Irregular Verbs
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ben Nickol
In this lesson, we examine the various forms of the past tense in English, including simple past tense, past-progressive, past-perfect, and past-perfect-progressive.

What is the Past Tense?

Verbs in English can describe actions happening now (which are verbs in the present tense), actions that will happen at a later time (verbs in the future tense), and actions that have already happened, which are verbs in the past tense. This lesson will study verbs in the past tense. Because a given action can happen at different points in the past, and can last varying durations (some actions happen and are complete, while others are ongoing), there are several different kinds of past tenses. We'll examine them one at a time.

Simple Past Tense

The most basic past tense is the simple past tense, wherein the sentence describes an action that began and was completed at some specific point in the past. For most verbs, the simple past tense is formed by adding the suffix -ed to the end of the verb. The following sentences all employ the simple past tense:

  • Last night, Kyle called his brother.
  • Yesterday, we hiked the mountain.
  • Paul enrolled in college.

Past-Progressive Tense

Another form of the past tense is the past-progressive tense, which is used to describe an action that was ongoing at a given point in the past. For most verbs, the past-progressive tense is formed by using was or were (depending on whether the subject of the sentence is singular or plural, respectively) along with what's called the present participle of the verb. The present participle for most verbs is formed by adding the suffix -ing to the end of the verb. The following sentences all employ the past-progressive tense. Notice how each sentence describes some action that was in the process of happening and was not yet complete at the time the sentence specifies.

  • Laura was driving her son to school.
  • Tim was writing a long email.
  • The students were playing soccer at recess.

Past-Perfect Tense

The past-perfect tense (otherwise known as the pluperfect tense) is a little more complicated. This tense is used to identify a point in the past by which a certain action was already completed. In other words, it sequences the past. For most verbs, the past-perfect tense is formed by using had along with the simple past tense form of the verb (the verb plus the suffix -ed). The following sentences employ the past-perfect tense. Notice how the verb in each sentence establishes a point in past time by which the given action is already over and done with.

  • Larry had locked all the doors and windows.
  • Lucy and Jim had finished their holiday shopping.
  • Ben had purchased new shoes.

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