How To Use The PAST SIMPLE Tense In English With ALL Its Meanings | DailyStep English

How To Use The PAST SIMPLE Tense In English With ALL Its Meanings

How many ways can I use the Past Simple tense? 

All Ways To Use The Past SimpleHello I'm Jane at DailyStep English and in this lesson I'm going to teach you ALL 10 ways to use the Past Simple tense in English. 

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So let's learn how to use the Past Simple:




The Past Simple Verb Tense 

By Jane Lawson at DailyStep.com

I use both the Past Simple and the Simple Past names for this tense in this lesson. This will help you to remember that they are both the same thing. 

If you want to learn how to form the Past Simple, please click here.

The Simple Past is the first Past Tense that you learn, because it is actually the most basic Past Tense. But the Past Simple can also be used in some very advanced ways too. Please check that you know all of these ways to use this English verb tense. The more advanced uses are lower down in the lesson.

First, and very important, please remember that the Past Simple is only used when we refer to Finished Past Time. You need to understand the difference between Finished and Unfinished Past Time, so if you missed my free lesson on this, you can find it here.

So, let's take a look at all the different ways we can use the Past Simple in English:

1.  We use the Past Simple when we talk about completed actions in the Finished Past.


Examples: 
 
I walked a long way last weekend.
How far did you walk?

What did he tell you?
He told me a secret.

When was this book written?
It was written 50 years ago.

How long did you live in Australia?
I lived there for 2 years.
Did you enjoy it?
Yes, I did.

He swam a lot while he was on holiday.
Did he read much as well?
No, he didn't read at all.

2. We use the Past Simple to talk about the time or date of completed actions in the past.

So, we use the Past Simple in questions using When? What date? What time?

We also use the Simple Past in sentences with  Ago.

Examples:

When did they leave?
They left after dinner.

How long ago did you move to this house?
I moved here 4 years ago.

When did he start his new job?
He started his new job this year.

The train was late today.
Oh! When did it arrive?
It arrived at 14.10. It was 20 minutes late.

Notice that in the last 2 examples, this year and today are both unfinished periods of time, but we use the Past Simple because the moment that the train arrived, or that he started his new job, are both in finished time. This rule applies no matter how recently the time finished

Take a look at this example:
Hurry up, the film has already started.
When did it start?
It started a few seconds ago.

3. We use the Past Simple to express chronological order.

This means that we use the Past Simple to say what happened first, second, third and so on.

Example 1:
He got in his car, switched on the engine and drove to work. (note: it would not be correct to say "He got in his car, drove to work and switched on the engine", because this would not be logical. He needs to switch on the engine before he starts driving.)

Example 2:
I woke up, had a shower and prepared breakfast. (note: here we know that I did these things in this order: First, I woke up, second, I had a shower, and third, I prepared breakfast.)


It's important to remember that the Past Simple expresses chronological order because sometimes we use other past tenses, the Past Continuous, the Past Perfect Simple and the Past Perfect Continuous when we want to break the chronological order. You can learn about these soon in more free DailyStep English Grammar Lessons.

4. We use the Past Simple in Reported Speech to report what someone originally said in the Present Simple.

Examples:
He said he was too cold. (note: his actual words here in direct speech were "I am too cold.")
She told me she had a new job. (note: her actual words here in direct speech were "I have a new job.")
He asked me how I was. (note: his actual words here in direct speech were "How are you?")

You can learn more about the rules of Reported Speech in another free DailyStep English Grammar Lesson.

Now, let's look at some more advanced ways to use the Past Simple in English. These uses become more advanced as you move down through the lesson.

5. We use the Past Simple after IT'S TIME and IT'S HIGH TIME if we want to express urgency.                                

Examples:
It's time we left. (note: this means "We need to leave right now". If I say "It is time to leave" this does not express urgency.)

It's high time I cleaned those windows. They are filthy! (note: the expression "It's high time" expresses even more urgency. So we know that the windows must be very dirty, even before I say in the second sentence that they are filthy.)

It's time he got a job. He has been unemployed for too long

6. We use the Past Simple after WOULD RATHER and WOULD SOONER if we want to express a preference about other people, or about ourselves and other people.

Example 1: 
I'd rather we ate in this restaurant than in that one. The food is better in this one. (note: Here, we are expressing a preference about ourselves and other people. It is incorrect to say "I'd rather ate...". You need to include the subject of the Past Simple verb, which in this sentence is WE. So it is correct to say "I'd rather we ate...")

Example 2: 
I would sooner we took an earlier train in case the later one is cancelled. (note: "would sooner" means the same as "would rather", but "would rather" is more commonly used.)

Example 3: 
Would you rather they didn't visit us this weekend, as you are so busy?

Please note that the grammar of WOULD RATHER and WOULD SOONER has other options as well as the Past Simple. I will not cover them all here but I'll do so in another free grammar lesson from DailyStep English.

7. We use the Simple Past in Second Conditional Clauses  when we are referring to UNREAL PRESENT OR FUTURE. 


Examples:
He is very poor, but if he had a lot of money he would be rich. (note: the reality here is that he does not have a lot of money, but the conditional clause "If he had a lot of money" refers to a hypothetical, unreal situation in the present)

I am going to Rome next month. If I had more time there, I would visit you but I will only be there for 2 days. (note: the reality is that I will not have enough time to visit you. In the  conditional clause "If I had more time there", the Past Simple verb, Had, refers to a time in the future - in other words, the time next month when I will be in Rome.)

If I were you, I would apologise to her. (note: here, we use the subjunctive form "If I were..." instead of the Past Simple "If I was...".We always use this form of the verb BE for the unreal present after I. 
It is also correct to use it after He, She or It, but in practice we often just use the Past Simple.)

Imagine if you had the power to travel in time. Which time period would you travel to? (note: here, the second conditional idea is split across 2 sentences. We could express this as one sentence with a conditional clause. In this case, we would say: "If you had the power to travel in time, which time would you travel to?" )

You can learn more about Second Conditional Clauses here.

8. We use the Past Simple tense with I WISH and IF ONLY when we are referring to the UNREAL PRESENT . 

Examples:
I wish I had a car so I could drive you to the airport. (note: the real present situation here is that I do not have a car.)

If only I had an umbrella with me! I hate walking home in the rain.  (note: the real present situation is that I do not have an umbrella with me.)


You can learn how to use WISH and IF ONLY in more detail soon in another free DailyStep English Grammar Lesson.


These next uses of the Past Simple are even more advanced:

9. We use the Past Simple when we want to sound less certain or make something sound less likely,  or to be more polite and more tentative. Here it can have a present or future meaning.                               


We often use the Past Simple tense in this way with expressions such as Suppose, Supposing and What if.

Example 1:
Suppose we stayed on holiday another week? Would we lose our jobs when we got home? (note: we could also say "Suppose we stay another week..." but by choosing the Past Simple here, the speaker makes the idea of staying another week more hypothetical, less likely and therefore as a suggestion, this becomes more tentative.)

Example 2:
What if we just didn't tell him? He doesn't need to know about it and it would only upset him if he knew. (note: in the first sentence here, we could say "What if we don't tell him..." but when we say "What if we didn't tell him...", the suggestion sounds more tentative.)

Example 3:
I thought perhaps we could try a new approach to the problem. (note: here, the speaker says "I thought we could..."  in order to make this suggestion sound more tentative and therefore perhaps more diplomatic)

Example 4:
I wanted to ask if you could help me with this project. (note: here, the speaker could also say "I want to ask.."  but saying "I wanted to ask..." sounds  less direct and therefore more polite.)


10. Sometimes use the Past Simple tense in polite offers with WANT and NEED with a present meaning. 

Examples:
Did you want another cup of tea, madam? (note: we could also say "Do you want another cup of tea?" but this is a more direct and less tentative offer. We might use the question "Did you want another cup of tea"  if we want to sound more polite and less direct.)


When answering this question, it is incorrect to use the Past Simple, so you can not say:

Yes please, I wanted some more tea.

Some possible correct answers to this question would be:

Yes please, I'd like some more tea.
Yes please, I do.
No thank you, I don't want any more.

So, now you know ALL the different ways to use the Past Simple tense in English. How many ways are new for you? 

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10 Ways To Use The Past Simple Tense In English