Past Simple: Basic Rules And Exceptions


George Ade once said: “Nothing is improbable until it moves into past tense.” Well, for many English non-native speakers I personally do know learning the past tense of English grammar is already barely probable task due to the large number of grammar rules and exceptions. It’s especially true for the Past Simple form, which despite its promising name is often much far from being simple, so saying the phrase “I learned and understood Past Simple” in the past tense becomes the cherished dream of most students, who have spent several weeks or even months on do-or-die attempts to learn all the tricky grammar rules and insidious exceptions of Past Simple by heart. Well, as you may recall, our super helper-outer editing team has already helped the readers of our blog to master the guileful grammar rules of Future Perfect and given some artful tips on how to use Future Perfect Continuous like a pro. Therefore, I think you have already guessed for whom our grammar bell tolls today. In this blogpost we are happy to introduce our ultimate super easy guide on basic rules and exceptions of Past Simple that will make this grammar form really simple to learn. So, take a deep breath, fasten the safety belt and get ready for our rapid-fire pace grammar ride! Here we go!

Past Simple Basic Rules: Mega Grammar Headstart

Ok, now, as the saying goes, let’s begin with beginning. It goes without saying that before starting any ride, especially on such a rough and complicated racing track as Past Simple, it’s necessary to get our car ready first. Needless to say that the fine pre-race maintenance is the key to winning any ride, so I bet you won’t get into racing sport car before you have carefully checked the engine and brakes, replaced the tires, refilled the gas tank, et cetera. Well, these basic Past Simple rules are an ultimate pit stop for you grammar car to achieve its pick performance.

Past Simple Form

When talking about the verb form corresponding to the Past Simple tense, you have to remember one really simple rule: every verb in the English language (both regular and irregular) has only one form of past tense. This rule has the only single exception (yeah, we just started and already faced exceptions, but that’s English grammar, baby), which is the verb to be, whose two past forms are was and were. This rule is highly important, because it differentiates English from most other European languages, such as Spanish or French, where the verb ending in the past form is changed depending on the subject.

Now let’s talk about how we can obtain the past form of verbs in English. First of all, as you probably already know, all the verbs in English are divided into two categories: regular and irregular. While regular verbs are relatively simple to put into past form, the irregular verbs are the tricky little creeps that obviously do not follow any consistent pattern, so the only way to learn them is to tattoo the verb form chart on your chest like Michael Scofield in famous Prison Break show. For example: drive – drove, feel – felt, put – put, swim – swam and et cetera. You see? No consistent pattern. These guys are real outlaw.

But let nothing be said of the Past Simple but what is good. The things are much easier with regular verbs. In order to form past form of regular verb, just add there an ending -ed.  For example, want – wanted, rain – rained, wait – waited, etc. Easy, isn’t it? Too easy, I’d say. But as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and Past Simple form of regular verbs also has its own spelling exceptions:

  1. In the verbs with final e you only add d in the past form, e.g. love – loved;
  2. The final consonant after a short stressed vowel is usually doubled, e.g. admit – admitted;
  3. Final y after a consonant becomes i, e.g. hurry – hurried.   

Now let’s take a look at the sentences with Past Simple:

Affirmative sentence:

Well, everything is easy here:

Subject + verb in past form

For example:

I ordered editing services yesterday.  

She quitted smoking two months ago.

It snowed last Friday.

Negative sentence:

It’s a little bit more complicated with negative sentences, but still simple:

Subject + did not (didn’t) + infinitive

Attention! The verb ‘to be’ and modal verbs, such as ‘can’ and ‘may’ are exception from this rule: to be – wasn’t, can – couldn’t, may – mightn’t etc.  

For example:

I didn’t need to finish it yesterday.

She didn’t use her car to drive to work last Monday.

He didn’t come home last night.   

Interrogative sentence:

We also use auxiliary word did in order to form interrogative sentences in the past:    

Did + Subject + Infinitive?

P.S. Remember about exception for modal verbs.

For example:

Did you need a doctor last night?

Did she kiss him yesterday?

Did you order essay editing service last month?

Past Simple Usage and Signal Words

The past simple tense form is generally used to express or describe the actions in the past that took place once, several times or never. (Example: I went to work by bus every day back then). It also can be used in complex sentences to describe actions that took place one after another in a sequence or interrupted other action in the past. (Example: I came home, ate my dinner and switched the TV on. Another example: My phone suddenly rang, when I was sleeping.). It is also widely used in conditional sentences type II. (Example: If I had a lot of money, I’d buy myself a sport car).  

As any other tense in English grammar, Past Simple has its own so called signal words that clearly indicate the need to use the verb exactly in the Past Simple tense. Now attention! Put it in your pipe and smoke it! If you want to use Past Simple tense correctly, than remember the following words and phrases once and for all, or if you cannot remember them, tattoo them on you hand. If you notice one of them in the sentence, it means that you have to use Past Simple sure as hell. So, the most common signal words for Past Simple are:

  • Yesterday;
  • one minute/two minutes/five minutes/ few hours/several years ago;
  • In 2001/2010/2015;
  • The other day;
  • Last Monday/Friday, etc.

Lifehack: Ultimate Grammar Problem Solver

Well, in our post above we already started to walk a rough long way of Past Simple professional usage, but for those who still experience problems or simply doesn’t have enough time, there’s an ultimate shortcut! If you are not completely sure in your grammar skills, you can always order proofreading services offered by our expert editing company. We offer grammar proofreading, spelling correction, revision and editing services at the flexible affordable price. And don’t forget to check our blog for more easy grammar guides!                

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