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Advanced Level: Past Simple

Average: 3.8 (33 votes)

There are several uses (functions) of the Past Simple:

1 Past Simple for completed actions in the past

Use the Past Simple (VERB+ed or irregular verbs) to express the idea that an action started and finished at a specific time in the past. It is not necessary to mention the specific time but it is implied in the verb form.

I saw a great film yesterday.
I didn't see Peter at the party last night.
I travelled to Milan last month.
Didn't you travel to Thailand a month ago?
He painted his bedroom red.

2 Several completed actions

We use the Past Simple to speak about a series of actions in the past that happened chronologically.

I finished work at five, went to my favourite café and spent an hour just watching the world go by.
First boil water then add the ingredients.

3 Past – Duration

The Past Simple can be used to speak about a duration which starts and stops in the past.

I lived in Spain for two years.
I studied Italian when I was at school.
They did not stay in Paris for very long.
I spoke to him on the phone for half an hour.

4 Habits in the past

The Simple Past can also be used to describe a habit which stopped in the past. It can have the same meaning as "used to". To make it clear that we are talking about a habit, we often add expressions such as: always, often, usually, never, when I was a child, when I was younger, etc.

I did Judo when I was a child.
He didn’t play the guitar, he played the piano.
He worked at a restaurant when he was at university.

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

Now complete the following using the correct form:

  • 1. What did you do when the car _ fire?

  • 2. I _ the wallet lying in the street.

  • 3. Did you _ your holiday in America?

  • 4. I _ about taking up yoga but I don’t think it’s my thing.

  • 5. Whenever I went to Danny’s all I ever saw him do was _ television.

  • 6. Thakfully Sarah didn’t hear me speaking to Peter because she _ to music with her headphones.

  • 7. Peter _ in Tokyo when there was the earthquake. You should get him to tell you what happened.

  • 8. What _ about the new gaming console?