Past Tense

Past Tense

Past tense is used to talk about something that happened in the past. Like other tenses, this tense also has four forms which will be discussed further in this post along with their structure & uses.

Simple Past:


Simple sentence- S + V2 + O.
Negative sentence- S + Did + Not + V1 + O.
Interrogative sentence – Did + S + V1 +O?
Question word(QW) Interrogative – QW + Did + S + V1 + O?
Negative Interrogative – Did + S + Not + V1 + O?

Read the following sentences based on the above structure:

  1. I packed my bag yesterday.
    He gave a test last week.
  2. You did not complete your homework.
    They did not help me 2 years ago.
  3. Did I perform well?
    Did Dwayne ask about me?
  4. When did you see him?
    Where did he find the treasure?
  5. Did I not order for a glass of water?  Or  Didn’t I order for a glass of water?
    Did you not finish your breakfast?   Or  Didn’t you finish your breakfast?

It is clear from the structure and the examples that in the Past Simple(Simple Past) or Past Indefinite second form of a verb is used and Did is used as helping verb in case of negative and interrogative sentences.

Did is used both the singular and plural(noun or pronoun).


1. Simple past is used to express the action completed in the past often along with past time expressions(like- yesterday, last, ago, last week etc)

for example:
I went to New Delhi last week.
We bought this TV yesterday.
Fatima sent a letter to him two days ago.
He completed his course when he was in London.

2. This tense can also be used without time expressions and in such cases the time is either implied or indicated by the context.

for example:
He escaped from the prison.
I woke up in the middle of the night.
We did not see anything.
Did they lie about the incident?
Where did he meet her?
We met at a restaurant.

3. It is also used to talk about past habits or repeated actions that no longer happen.

for example:
I participated in every event.
He walked two miles every morning.
We always went for a walk when we lived in Japan.
They often participated in the games.

Past Continuous:


Simple sentence- S + was/were + V1+ing + O.
Negative sentence- S + was/were + not + V1+ing + O.
Interrogative sentence – Was/were +  S + V1+ing + O?
Question word(QW) Interrogative – QW + Was/were + S + V1+ing + O?
Negative Interrogative – Was/were + S + Not + V1+ing + O?

Now consider the examples based on the above structures:

  1. I was watching a movie.
    They were talking about the event.
  2. He was not working.
    People were staring at me.
  3. Was Alice cooking in the kitchen?
    Were children laughing at the clown?
  4. When was Jacob teaching his students?
    Where were you playing with your friends?
  5. Was she not running fast?  Or  Wasn’t she running fast?
    Were you not chewing something?  Or  Weren’t you chewing something?

The above examples have made it clear that ‘was‘ and ‘were‘ are used as helping verb(or auxiliary verb) in the Past Continuous tense with the first form of a verb +ing.

Was‘ is used with a singular subject whereas ‘were‘ is used with a plural subject.


1. It is used to talk about an action or an event which was happening at some time in the past.

for example:
I was running in the park that morning.
At 9 pm we were watching the news on TV.
They were asking questions about the accident.
She was getting ready for the party when I called her. Or When I called her, she was getting ready for the party.
He poked me while I was reading.  Or  While I was reading, he poked me.
They were singing and I was dancing.

In the fourth & the fifth sentences, Past Continuous tense is used along with Simple Past. In these two sentences, one action interrupts the other action which is going on.

The action going on is written in Past Continuous(longer action) while the action which interrupts the other is written in Simple Past(shorter action).

And in the last sentence, two actions are going on at the same time and both are written in continuous tense.

2. It is also used to express the persistent habits in the past with words like always, continually, constantly etc.

for example:
She was always complaining about her boss.
They were continually asking one another while writing the answers.
He was constantly singing.

Past Perfect:


Simple sentence- S + Had+ V3 + O.
Negative sentence- S + Had + not + V3 + O.
Interrogative sentence – Had +  S + V3 + O?
Question word(QW) Interrogative – QW + Had + S + V3 + O?
Negative Interrogative – Had + S + Not + V3 + O?

Read the following sentences:

  1. I had watched the movie.
    She had completed her assignment.
  2. They had not written any letter.
    You had not bought a TV.
  3. Had he appeared before the judge?
    Had Julie asked him on a date?
  4. Who had informed them?
    Where had they gone?
  5. Had I not told you about the incident?  Or  Hadn’t I told you about the incident?
    Had we not finished the whole game?   Or  Hadn’t we finished the whole game?

It is clear from both the structure and the examples that Had is used as a helping verb and the third form of the verb is used in Past Perfect Tense.


1. This form of tense is used to talk about an action which is completed before a certain moment in the past.

for example:
I read his success story in the newspaper yesterday. I had heard about him 2 years ago.
The company went bankrupt. It had been predicted by the economists a year before.
They met him in Japan in 2016. They had seen him last four years before.

2. It is used to talk about an action in the past which happened before the other action.

for example:
I had completed the assignment before dad came to see me.
The had eaten my dinner when he called me.
They reached at the venue after everyone left.
The coach had finalized the candidates before I arrived.
The patient had died before the doctor arrived. Or
The doctor arrived after the patient had died.

If you consider the last sentence – the action described in the first part of the sentence is completed before the second part.

So the action which happens before the other is written in Past Perfect and the action which happens latter is written in Simple Past.

Past Perfect Continuous:


Simple sentence- S + Had + been + V1+ing + O.
Negative sentence- S + Had + not + been + V1+ing + O.
Interrogative sentence – Had +  S + been + V1+ing + O?
Question word(QW) Interrogative – QW + Had + S + been + V1+ing + O?
Negative Interrogative – Had + S + Not + been + V1+ing + O?

Sentences based on the structure above:

  1. I had been reading this newspaper since 2009.
    He had been teaching in this institution for three years.
  2. Helen had not been living in this apartment since Monday.
    They had not been playing for our team for two months.
  3. Had she been studying Arts since October?
    Had you been working here for two days?
  4. Where had they been practicing for two weeks?
    Who had he been teaching since morning?
  5. Had it not been barking since evening?  Or  Hadn’t it been barking since evening?
    Had you not been writing this letter for 30 minutes?  Or  Hadn’t you been writing this letter for 30 minutes?


This form of tense is used to talk about an action that began before a certain point in time in the past and continued untill that time.

for example:
When I met him, he had been teaching at that college for five years.
They visited the Palace and came to know that the tourists had been visiting the Palace since 1990.
He told us that he had been working at the office the whole evening.
I had been working at the bank for 6 months before I left the job.
When they decided to get married they had been dating for 5 years.

Since is used with point of time such as Monday, January, 9 am, 1999, morning, yesterday etc.
Whereas ‘for‘ is used with the period of time such as 2 months, 3 hours, 4 years, 4 weeks etc.

This is all about the Past Tense and Its four forms. We have discussed their structure and uses in this post. Hope this will help you clear your doubts.

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Thanks for reading:)

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