Past Tense - Explore Meaning, Definition, Structure and Types with Examples

As human beings, we love to speak about what goes on in our lives. In order to be able to express what has happened, you should know how to use the past tense. This article will help you with what you need to know about past tense, its meaning, definition and types. Check out the examples and past tense verbs list to have a clear understanding of how it works.

Table of Contents

What is Past Tense?

The ‘past tense’ form of a verb, as the term suggests, can be used to speak about or represent an event or action that already happened in the past. One important point you have to keep in mind is that a number of verbs, when used in the past tense, do not follow the general rule of adding ‘ed’ to the end of the verb to form the past tense. Take a look at the different definitions of past tense and the list of past tense verbs to develop a clear idea of the same.

Definition of Past Tense

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the term ‘past tense’ as “the form of a verb used to describe actions in the past.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the past tense form of the verb is “used to describe verb forms in many languages used for actions that have now finished.”

“A verb tense expressing action or state in or as if in the past”, is the definition of past tense, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The Macmillan Dictionary defines ‘past tense’ as “the forms of a verb group indicating that an action or event happened regularly, or that a situation existed or was true during a period before now.”

Types of Past Tense

The past tense has four different forms to indicate the varied nature of actions that happened in the past. They are:

  • Simple Past Tense – used to indicate an action or event that happened in the past.
  • Past Continuous Tense – used to depict an action or event that was continuing in the past.
  • Past Perfect Tense – used to represent an event or action that happened in the past before another event or action that happened in the past.
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense – used to denote an action or event that was taking place in the past until another action or event happened in the past.

Structure of Past Tense

In order to understand the structure of the past tense, take a look at the following table.

Structure of Past Tense
Simple Past Tense Past Continuous Tense Past Perfect Tense Past Perfect Continuous Tense
Subject + Verb + ed / verb in the past tense + the rest of the sentence Subject + Helping Verb(was/were) + Main verb+ing + the rest of the sentence Subject + Helping Verb (had) + Past participle of the main verb + the rest of the sentence along with the time frame Subject + Had + Been + Verb+ing + the rest of the sentence
For example: Nathan met me at the park. For example: It was raining. For example: Tony had eaten his dinner before we reached the venue. For example: Sharan had been practising the guitar when the teacher called for him.

It would be even better if you also learn how the structure of a sentence using the past tense form of the verb changes when used in the positive, negative, interrogative or negative interrogative formats.

Positive Negative Interrogative Negative Interrogative
Subject + Past tense form of the verb Subject + Did not / Didn’t + Base form of the verb Did + Subject + Base form of the verb Didn’t + Subject + Base form of the verb
For example: She sang a song. For example: She did not sing a song. For example: Did she sing a song? For example: Didn’t she sing a song?

Examples of Past Tense

Given below are a few examples to show you how the past tense works.

  • Marcel finished his speech.
  • Did they go to the hospital?
  • Nandhini and Padmini were talking about you.
  • Salim had found the keys before his parents found out about it.
  • Selena found out that Trinita had not been taking her medicines for the last few weeks.
  • Didn’t you know about his accident?

List of Past Tense Verbs

Take a look at the following table of past tense verbs with the past and past participle forms that you can refer to when you are using the past tense.

Base Verb Past Form of the Verb Past Participle Form of the Verb
Check Checked Checked
Reach Reached Reached
Teach Taught Taught
Sing Sang Sung
Buy Bought Bought
Throw Threw Thrown
Sink Sank Sunk
Fly Flew Flown
Dance Danced Danced
Drink Drank Drunk

You can refer to the article on irregular verbs for an extensive list of verbs and their past forms.

Frequently Asked Questions on Past Tense in English

What is the past tense?

The ‘past tense’ form of a verb, as the term suggests, can be used to speak about or represent an event or action that already happened in the past. One important point you have to keep in mind is that a number of verbs, when used in the past tense, do not follow the general rule of adding ‘ed’ to the end of the verb to form the past tense.

What is the definition of past tense?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the term ‘past tense’ as “the form of a verb used to describe actions in the past.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the past tense form of the verb is “used to describe verb forms in many languages used for actions that have now finished.” “A verb tense expressing action or state in or as if in the past”, is the definition of past tense, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The Macmillan Dictionary defines ‘past tense’ as “the forms of a verb group indicating that an action or event happened regularly, or that a situation existed or was true during a period before now.”

What are the different types of past tense?

The past tense can be seen to have four different forms namely,

  • Simple Past Tense
  • Past Continuous Tense
  • Past Perfect Tense
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Give a few examples of past tense.

Given below are a few examples to show you how the past tense works.

  • Marcel finished his speech.
  • Did they go to the hospital?
  • Nandhini and Padmini were talking about you.
  • Salim had found the keys before his parents found out about it.
  • Selena found out that Trinita had not been taking her medicines for the last few weeks.
  • Didn’t you know about his accident?

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