Past Tense Overview

Past Tense - Lesson #1

If you want to speak English well, then you need to understand and know how to use the past tense verb form.

We use the past tense to talk about things that already happened or finished. In other words, we use the past tense to talk about things in the past.

So, things that happened yesterday, last year, last week, 3 days ago, when you were young, etc.

You make past tense sentences and questions the same as present tense, but the verb in the sentence will change. So, if you know how to make a present tense sentence or question, then you know how to do it in the past tense.

The hardest thing about the past tense is learning the past tense verb forms. There are many irregular past tense verbs that you need to memorize.

Let's look at a quick overview of past tense in English.

1. The past tense of the verb "to be" is "was/were". Here is how it changes from the present tense be verbs.

am wasis wasare were
  • I was tired yesterday.
  • I was a writer when I was in my 20s, but now I am a painter.
  • He was sick last week.
  • They were friends in university, but now they hate each other.
  • It was rainy yesterday.
  • Was it cold last week?
  • Were you happy when you heard the news?
2. Very often we just add "-ed" to the end of a verb to make the past tense form. Let's compare some present tense verbs to some past tense verbs.

play playedwork workedwatch watched
ask askedkick kickedwant wanted
  • The children played in the morning, but now they are studying.
  • I worked a lot yesterday, but I am not working today.
  • We watched a movie last night.
  • She asked me a strange question yesterday.
  • My sister kicked me every day when we were young.
  • I wanted to buy a new car last week, but I changed my mind.
3. The hardest thing about the past tense is learning and using the irregular verbs. Take a look at a few examples of irregular past tense verbs compared to the present tense verb.

see sawrun ranbuy bought
go wenttake tookleave left
  • I saw her yesterday.
  • When I saw her, I ran to her.
  • She bought a new coat last month.
  • They went to Europe last year.
  • He took his girlfriend to a movie yesterday.
  • He left for work an hour ago.
We will study the irregular past tense verbs in detail in another lesson.

4. The verb "to do" changes to "did" in the past tense. So, yes/no questions look like this.

Did + subject + verb…?

Since the verb "do" changes to "did", the other verb remains in the base form. The verb does not change.
  • Did you eat breakfast this morning?
  • Did you go to Europe last year?
  • Did he attend the meeting last Wednesday?
  • Did they watch the movie with you?
  • Did you see the game?
5. Here is how you make a question with question words and the past tense.

Question Word + did + subject + verb…?

Again, the word "did" shows the past tense, so the other verb does not change.
  • What did you eat this morning?
  • Where did you go yesterday?
  • What university did he attend?
  • Why did the CEO yell at the vice president of the company?
  • How did you do that?
6. We also use "did" when making negative sentences. In the present tense, we use "do not" or "does not", but in the past tense, we only use "did not".

do not did notdoes not did not
don't didn'tdoesn't didn't
  • I did not eat dinner last night.
  • She didn't go to the conference because she was sick.
  • They did not go to the concert last weekend.
  • Nick didn't call me yesterday.
  • Why didn't you come?
  • Why did you not come?
In the following lessons, we will study the past tense in more detail with many examples and practice conversations to help you learn perfectly.

The past tense is very important for you to know. Do not rush through this section. Study carefully and take your time. If you learn the past tense well, then speaking and communicating in English will be much easier and comfortable for you.