Learn English grammar: The past simple


This article looks at the past simple. We use the past simple to talk about actions that have finished.

What does the past simple look like?
When do we use the past simple?


When I was twelve my family moved to a new house.

 This sentence contains two past simple tense verbs.

 Was – the past of the verb ‘to be’. This is an irregular verb. It does not follow rules.

Moved – the past of the verb ‘to move’. This is a regular verb. It follows the same rules as other regular verbs.


The most commonly used verbs in the English language are irregular. Here are a few.

Eat Ate
Bring brought
Come came
Drink drank
Eat Ate
Get Got
Give Gave
Knew Know
Speak Spoke
Take Took
Think Thought
Write Wrote

The verb stays the same whatever the subject. For example;

I spoke English

You spoke English

He/she/it spoke English

We/they spoke English


*The verb ‘be’ DOES change however (you could call it an irregular, irregular verb!)

 Past of ‘BE’

 I was

You were

He/she/it was

We were

They were

 A good list of 212 irregular verbs can be found at 



When I was twelve my family moved to a new house.

 ‘Moved’ is the past of the verb ‘move’.

It is a regular verb.

 ‘Move’ (means here to leave one house to live in another)


I moved

You moved

He/She/It moved

We/They moved


Regular verbs follow the same rule


  1. If the verb ends in e, just add d.

love – loved               live – lived


  1. If the verb has a short-vowel sound at the end,

add an extra consonant and ed.


admit – admitted             travel – travelled


Remember: the vowels are (a,e,i,o,u) all of the other letters are consonants (b,c,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,q,r,s,t,v,w,x,y,z)


  1. If the verb ends with a consonant and ‘y’,

change the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ and add ‘ed’

party – partied           cry – cried

  1. If the verb ends with a vowel and ‘y’ then just add ‘ed’

play – played                      pray – prayed


The past simple is used for habits that do not happen now.


In my twenties, I played tennis every week.

Last week, I worked until nine pm every day.

I went to Spain on holiday every year for ten years. This year I’m going to Italy.

Often with past simple habits a time or date is given

(every week, every day, for ten years).


The past simple is also used for facts or events that have finished before the present time.

Last year I drove to work, now I walk.

Leonardo de Vinci painted the Mona Lisa.

The dinosaurs lived long before people.

Henry VIII had six wives.

I ate eggs for breakfast.


We can also use the past simple to describe more than one thing as in telling a story or a joke to a friend.

A man had three apples and he began to eat the first one but he found a worm inside. He started to eat the second apple and again he saw a worm inside. So he turned off the light and ate the third one.


We can use the past simple when one thing is happening and then something else happens in the middle of the first action.


The phone rang while I was having a bath.

This is often used with the past continuous.

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