Grammar Lesson

Past simple (I wrote) – Definition, rules, uses, and quiz

A. Definition

Let’s study this example:

Victor Hugo was a French writer, poet and novelist. He lived from 1802 to 1885. He published his first novel the year following his marriage. He was 83 years old when he died.

Was/started/published/died are all past simple.

● You use the past simple for completed actions in the past, often with an expression of time, e.g. yesterday, last week, in 2001, a few years ago, etc.

We took the cat to the vet’s yesterday.

l went to South Africa when I was a student.

● You always use the simple past when you say when something happened, so it is associated with certain past time expressions

often, sometimes, always;

a definite point in time:
last week, when I was a child, yesterday, six weeks ago.
an indefinite point in time:
the other day, ages ago, a long time ago etc.

● In the past simple, duration is not important. The time of the action can be in the recent past or the distant past:

My mother died last year.

John Cabot sailed to America in 1498.

We crossed the Channel yesterday.

He lived in Fiji in 1964.

● Very often the past simple ends in –ed (regular verbs):

The police stopped me on my way home last night.

I work in a travel agency now. Before that, I worked in a mall.

He passed his examination because he studied very hard.

We invited them to our party but they decided not to come.

● In case if a verb was irregular, the past simple does not end in –ed. For example:

  write -> wrote :
* Mozart wrote more than 600 pieces of music.

  see -> saw :
* We saw Rose in town a few days ago.

  go -> went :
* I went to the cinema three times last week.

  shut -> shut :
* It was cold, so I shut the window.

B. Negative form and questions

● In questions and negatives we use did/didn’t + infinitive (enjoy/see/go etc.):

I/she/they: enjoyed/saw/went

Did: you/she/they: enjoy?/see?/go?
I/she/they: didn’t: enjoy/see/go

Examples :

A: Did you go out last night?
B: Yes, I went to the cinema but I didn’t enjoy the film much.

‘When did Mr. Thomas die?’ ‘About ten years ago.’

They didn’t invite her to the party, so she didn’t go.

Did you have time to write the letter?’ ‘No, I didn’t.’

C. Remember and note

● Be careful when do is the main verb in the sentence:

What did you do at the weekend? (not ‘what did you at the weekend’)

I didn’t do anything. (not ‘I didn’t anything’)

● The past of be (am/is/are) is was/were:

I/he/she/it  was/wasn’t
we/you/they  were/weren’t

was  I/he/she/it?
were we/you/they?

● Note that we do not use did in negatives and questions with was/were:

Did you go out last night or were you too tired?

He was angry because they were late.

They weren’t able to come because they were so busy.

Was the weather good when you were on holiday?

● The word ago is a useful way of expressing the distance into the past. It is placed after the period of time e.g. a week ago, three years ago, a minute ago.

Rick left five minutes ago.

She sent me a letter six months ago.

C. Quiz and Exercises

Test your knowledge now by passing this test from here:

You can work on other exercises in your spare time to consolidate your knowledge about the topic.


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