The Past Simple Tense

The past simple tense is used to talk about actions, situations or states that happened or were true in the past. Il past simple descrive azioni, situazioni o stati determinati nel passato. Può essere accompangnato da un complemento che indica un tempo completamente trascorso. Si traduce molto spesso con il passato prossimo italiano.

I enjoyed the film we saw last night.
Mi è piaciuto il film che abbiamo visto ieri sera.

We listened to some new CDs yesterday afternoon.
Abbiamo ascoltato dei CD nuovi ieri pomeriggio.

The past simple can also be used to talk about habitual actions in the past. Il past simple descrive anche azioni abituali del passato. In tal caso, si traduce con l’imperfetto.

Every day we got up early and went to the beach.
Ogni giorno ci alzavamo presto e andavamo alla spiaggia.


Past Simple verb forms are the same for all people (I, she, they, etc) (Except for the verb ‘Be’)


Past Simple – Regular Verbs

The past simple is usually formed by adding “–ed” to the verb infinitive.

For example:
• walk –> I walked
• answer –> He answered
• want –> She wanted
• look –> They looked
If a verb infinitive ends with an ‘e’ we only add the letter ‘d’.

For example:
• smile –> She smiled.
• die –> He died.


If a verb infinitive ends with a vowel and the letter ‘y’, we add ‘..ed’.
If the infinitive ends with a consonant + ‘y’ we remove the ‘y’ and replace it with ‘..ied’.

For example:
• to play –> We played
• to stay –> They stayed
• to cry –> The baby cried
• to try –> He tried


Past Simple – Irregular Verbs

There are also many English verbs which are irregular in the past, and you need to learn these ‘by heart’. Common regular verbs include:

Write –> Wrote
Have –> Had
Eat –> Ate
Go –> Went


Past Simple – Negative Forms

To make a negative form, we add ‘did not’ or ‘didn’t’ before the verb infinitive.

For example:
• I didn’t eat breakfast this morning.
• I didn’t go to university after I finished school.
• Paul and Susan didn’t live in Rome in 1999, they lived in Napoli.
• She didn’t like Berlin because it was very cold.
• We didn’t have breakfast this morning.


Past Simple – Question Forms

When we make past simple questions, we can use ‘did’ plus the verb infinitive if the question is positive, and ‘didn’t’ if the question is negative.

Yes / No Questions

For a question that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ we can use the following form:
‘Did’ + subject + verb infinitive.

For example:

Did you talk to Peter yesterday? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
Did she receive my email? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
Did she arrive on time? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
Did you like the film? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
Did you do your homework? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
Didn’t you pass your exams? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.


Information Questions

If we want more information, we use a question word or phrase.

Common question words include ‘what, why, where, when‘ etc.
Common question phrases include What carWhich house…. What type of.. (etc)

The question word goes before the auxiliary (did/didn’t)

For example:
What did you do yesterday? I visited my friends…
What did you have for lunch? I had a pizza…
What film did you see at the cinema? I saw ‘Star Wars XXV….’
Where did you buy your coat? I bought it in Milan.
Where did you go to school? I went to school in …..
Where did you park the car? I parked my car outside…
When did you leave school? I left school in 1945…
When did you sell your guitar? I sold my guitar two years ago…


Past Simple – Time Expressions

The time expressions below are often used with the past simple:

• yesterday, yesterday morning, yesterday evening….
• last week, last month, last year, last night….
• a month ago, two weeks ago….
• in 2002, on my birthday. at christmas….
• during the summer….
• when I was at school…..when I lived in Spain…. when I was young….
• When I opened the door… when I got to work… when I turned my phone on… (etc)


Click the button below to try some exercises using the past simple tense..

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