Definition and How to Form Past Tense

Definition and How to Form Past Tense

Mastery of verb tenses, including the past tense, is crucial for effective communication in English. Whether you are recounting past experiences or crafting engaging narratives, understanding how to form the past tense correctly and avoiding common mistakes will enhance your language proficiency. This article will dive deep into past tense, its formation, and common mistakes to avoid.

Read also: Simple Present Tense: Definition, Function, and Structure 

What is Past Tense?

The past tense is sometimes called the preterit tense. It is a grammatical tense used in English to describe actions or events that occurred and were completed in the past that happened at a fixed time. It is one of the fundamental tenses in English and is widely used for narrating past actions or experiences.

The use of past tense in the sentence “I lived in Singapore for five years” primarily indicates that the action or state of living in Singapore occurred in the past and is no longer happening.

How to Form Past Tense

To form the past tense, there is some aspect that should be paying attention to, as follow:

Regular Verbs

Generally, add “-ed” to the verb’s base form (infinitive) to form the Past Tense of regular verbs. Here is an example sentence:

Base Verb: Play

Past Tense: Played

Example Sentence: He played basketball yesterday.

In this sentence, “play” is the base verb, and “played” is the past tense form used to describe the action that happened in the past.

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs, however, do not follow a consistent pattern for forming the past tense. Each irregular verb has its unique past tense form that must be memorized. Here is an example sentence with an irregular verb:

Base Verb: Go

Past Tense: Wen

Example Sentence: She went to the store.

In this example, “go” is an irregular verb, and “went” is the past tense form used to describe the action of going to the store in the past.

It is important to note that there are many irregular verbs in English, and their past tense forms do not follow a set pattern, so they must be learned individually.

Negative and Interrogative Forms

To create negative sentences in Simple Past Tense, typically use the auxiliary verb “did” (past tense of “do”) along with “not” (or its contraction “didn’t”) before the base form of the main verb. For interrogative (question) sentences, you invert the subject and “did.”

Negative: He did not finish his homework.

Interrogative: Did you go to the party last night?

Did + notSubjectDid + notPast verbRest of sentence
I / You / We / Theyworkedyesterday.
He / she / itworkedyesterday.
I / You / We / Theydid notworkyesterday.
He / she / itdid notworkyesterday.
DidI / You / We / Theyworkyesterday?
Did He / she / itworkyesterday?
Negative and Interrogative Forms

Time References

Simple Past Tense is often used with time expressions that indicate when the action occurred. These time references provide context and help the reader or listener understand when the past action took place.

Here are the lists of time references:

  • Yesterday: This refers to the day before today. Example: I saw her yesterday.
  • Last week/month/year: These refer to a specific week, month, or year before the current one. Example: We went on vacation last year.
  • In the past: A more general reference to any time. Example: In the past, people used to write letters.
  • A long time ago: Refers to a distant time in the past. Example: Dinosaurs lived a long time ago.
  • Once upon a time: Often used in storytelling to introduce events from the distant past. Example: Once upon a time, there was a brave knight.
  • When I was a child: Used to describe actions or events from one’s childhood. Example: When I was a child, I loved to play in the park.
  • In the 20th century: Refers to a specific century in the past. Example: In the 20th century, there were significant technological advancements.
  • During World War II: Indicates a specific historical period or event in the past. Example: Many countries were affected during World War II.
  • Back then: An informal way to refer to a pastime. Example: Back then, we did not have smartphones.
  • In the 1800s: Specifies a particular century in history. Example: In the 1800s, there was a surge in industrialization.

Common Mistake Forming Simple Past Tense

When using the negative form of the past simple, “didn’t” plus the main verb in the base form is used. The main verb is never in the past simple.

√ I didn’t play tennis last night.

× I didn’t played tennis last night.

References and Recommended Reading

  • Azar, B. S. (1996). Basic English Grammar. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Regents.
  • Azar, B. S. (2003). Fundamentals of English Grammar: Chartbook: a Reference Grammar. White Plains, NY: Longman.
  • Azar, B. S., & Hagen, S. A. (2009). Understanding and using English grammar: Workbook. White Plains, N.Y.:  Pearson Longman.
  • Ansell, M. (2000). Free English Grammar Second Edition.
  • Barduhn, S., & Hall, D. (2016). English for Everyone–English Grammar Guide. New York: DK Publishing.
  • Murphy, R., Smalzer, W. R., & Nguyễn, T. T. (2000). Grammar in Use: Intermediate. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Murphy, R., & Čhakramāt, S. (2002). Essential grammar in use (Vol. 20010). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tenry Colle
Tenry Colle

Hi! My name is A. Tenry Lawangen Aspat Colle. I am a motivated and resourceful English educator. In addition, as the owner of @rymari.translation17 has shaped me to be a punctual and dependable translator of Indonesian to English and vice versa.

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