Form: with “be”

The past simple tense is often formed with the past tense form of different verbs, but you might have also seen different English explanations that include the past tense of “be.”

The verb, “be,” is an irregular verb and should not be contracted.

Affirmative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “was/were”

  • “I was really tired after all the packing.”
  • “We were in the garden when dad came home.”
Negative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “was/were not

Contracted form:

subject + “wasn’t/weren’t”

  • “I asked Eve if she wanted to play games but she wasn’t in the mood.”
  • “They weren’t able to attend the wedding.”
Questions 

Full forms:

(a) “was/were” + subject

(b) question word + “was/were” + subject

  • Was it any good?”
  • What were they up to?”
Negative questions

It is possible to make negative questions even though their uses are quite specific. [See also: Negative questions]

The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. Contracted forms are preferred in general.

Contracted forms:

(a) “wasn’t/weren’t” + subject

(b) question word + “wasn’t/weren’t” + subject

Full forms:

(a) “was/were” + subject + “not

(b) question word + “was/were” + subject + “not

  • Wasn’t it any good?”
  • What were they not up to?”

Form: with different verbs

The past tense form of regular verbs are usually formed by adding “-d/-ed” to the base form. This is not the case for irregular verbs, so extra care should be taken.

Affirmative sentences 

Full form:

subject + past tense form of verb

  • “I watched a movie last night.”
  • “He only wrote one book in his lifetime.”
Negative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “did not” + base form of verb

Contracted form:

subject + “didn’t” + base form of verb

  • “I didn’t do anything the past week. I only watched TV.”
  • “We didn’t enjoy the movie at all.”
Questions 

Full forms:

(a) “did” + subject + base form of verb

(b) question word + “did” + subject + base form of verb

  • Did they do anything to help you?”
  • Who did you call?”
Negative questions

It is possible to make negative questions even though their uses are quite specific. [See also: Negative questions]

The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. Contracted forms are preferred in general.

Contracted forms:

(a) “didn’t” + subject + base form of verb

(b) question word + “didn’t” + subject + base form of verb

Full forms:

(a) “do/does” + subject + “not” + base form of verb

(b) question word + “do/does” + subject + “not” + base form of verb

  • Didn’t they do anything to help you?”
  • Why did you not talk to them?”

Timeline

Here, all the events are assumed to be completed or finished because they happened in the past.

It can be a single event.

Or an extended activity.


Uses of the Past simple tense

1.   To talk about completed actions in the past.

The time can either be specified or unspecified.

a. With time expressions – To refer to a definite period of time in the past.
  • “I visited Tasmania last month.”
  • “Wally was at the office yesterday.”
b.  Without time expressions – Assumes it happened in the past.
  • “Who painted the Mona Lisa?”
  • “They were happy about the results.”
2.   To describe past habits or routines.
  • “I read a lot of books when I was in school.”
  • “He was quite active in sports last year until he moved overseas.”
3.   With “be” or stative verbs – To express states.

Stative verbs (or event verbs) indicate a state or condition that do not show qualities of change or progress. These are not normally used in continuous tenses. Examples include “feel,” “look,” and “smell.”

“Be” (verb) is both stative and dynamic, as are the verbs, “think,” “be,” “have,” “see” and “taste.” However, these are used here in their stative forms.

  • “He was drunk after all the food and alcohol.”
  • Did you feel the chill just now?”
  • “Eve looked tired.”
4.   To describe a series of past events.

When we use the past simple followed by another past simple, it becomes a sequence of events. For this, we do not usually use stative verbs.

  • “I woke up and had breakfast.”
  • “Wally finished work, drove home, and had dinner with his family.”

Original post: 18 November 2020

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