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Lesson Explainer: The Present Simple and the Past Simple English

In this explainer, we will learn how to use the present simple and the past simple.

The present simple is used to talk about many things. We use it most often to talk about things that we do every day, for example, “I eat breakfast at 7 am every day.”

We also use it to talk about routines, for example, “I play tennis on Saturdays.”

We use it to talk about facts, for example, “The sky is blue.”

Finally, we use it to talk about things that are always true, such as opinions, for example, “We like scary films.”

The past simple is used to talk about actions that have been completed in the past. We use it for single actions (things that happened once), for example, “We watched a film last night.”

We use it for two or more actions that happened at a similar time in the past, for example, “I went to the party and I ate some pizza.”

Finally, we use it to talk about a routine in the past that doesn’t happen anymore, for example, “I swam in the ocean every day when I was on holiday.”

Now that we know why we use the present simple and the past simple, let’s learn how to form them. When we say “form a tense,” we are talking about how we write it. This includes the verb itself and the order of the words. The most important part of forming a tense is the verb.

Form: Forming the Present Simple and the Past Simple

Here is how we form verbs when writing in the present simple and past simple tenses:

When we use the present simple tense, we use the verb in its base form for first, second, and third person plural pronouns (I, we, you, they) and in -s form with the third person singular pronouns (he, she, it), for example, “I walk; she walks.

When we use the negative form of the present simple tense, we need to use the auxiliary verb do. With the first, second, and third person plural pronouns (I, we, you, they), we use don’t + base form of the verb. With the third person singular pronouns, we use doesn’t + base form of the verb, for example, “I dontwalk; she doesntwalk.

When we use the past simple tense, we use the verb in its base form + -ed. However, many verbs are irregular in English, such as eat(s) (present simple) ate (past simple). These verbs must be learnt separately as there isn’t a single rule for forming irregular verbs, for example, “I walked (regular past tense verb); I drank tea (irregular past tense verb).”

When we use the negative form of the past simple tense, we need to use the auxiliary verb do. With first, second, and third person pronouns (I, we, you, they, he, she, it), we use didn’t + base form of the verb, for example, “I didntwalk.

Example 1: Identifying the Tense of a Sentence

Which tense is being used in this example?

My neighbour works for a local charity.

  1. Present simple
  2. Past simple
  3. Present continuous
  4. Past continuous
  5. Future simple

Answer

This question is asking you to identify the tense of a sentence. Knowing which tense is being used will help you understand the meaning of the sentence.

The first thing you must do to identify the tense is find the verb. The verb here is works. We know that when a verb has -s on the end, it is in the present form. If we replace the subject (“my neighbour”) of the sentence with a pronoun, it would be he or she, a third person pronoun. And we also know that when a verb has -s on the end, it is in the present form when used with third person pronouns. We now know the answer is A.

Example 2: Asking a Question with Past Simple Tense

Fill in the blank using the past simple tense:

a talk about endangered species?

  1. Was she giving
  2. Is she giving
  3. Did she give
  4. Did she gave
  5. She gave

Answer

This question is asking you to fill in the blank. You are told to use the past simple tense. The example has a question mark, so we know it will use a question form. There is no wh-word in the example or in the choices; this means it must be a closed question (also known as a yes/no question). Let’s look at how to form a closed question using the past simple tense.

Past Simple Tense
AuxiliarySubjectVerb
Interrogative(?)(ClosedQuestion)DidI/you/they/we/he/she/itWalk?

Using the form box above, we can see that the structure used for forming a question in the past simple tense is the auxiliary verb did + subject + baseform.

In this question, only options C and D use the question form we looked at above: did + subject + baseform. D uses gave, which is the past simple form of give, but when we look at the form box, the base form of the verb must be used here. We now know that the answer is C.

Example 3: Choosing Which Verb Form to Use in a Sentence

Fill in the blanks to create two clauses:

I about first aid before I the course.

  1. readed, took
  2. reads, take
  3. read, takes
  4. read, took
  5. read, taked

Answer

This question is asking you to fill in the blank. It has two blanks, so you will need to choose two verbs. The question doesn’t tell you which tense to use, so you will have to decide if you need to use the present simple or the past simple.

We know this sentence is in the past because of the word before. Before is often used as a conjunction with the past simple tense. As the past simple tense is being used in the second clause, it is likely that the first clause is also using the past simple tense. The two verbs being used here are to read and to take, so we need to put them in the past tense.

As mentioned above, there are certain words that are irregular in English and do not follow the normal grammar rule of adding -ed. The two verbs in this question are irregular verbs.

Read does not change in the past tense; only the pronunciation changes. Take becomes took in the past tense. We now know that D is the answer.

Example 4: Choosing Which Verb Form to Use in a Sentence

Fill in the blanks using the present simple tense:

How often   Dina  blood at her local hospital?

  1. does, donate
  2. does, donates
  3. did, donate
  4. was, donating
  5. do, donate

Answer

This question is asking you to fill in the blank. It is about the present simple tense. The example has a question mark, so we know it will use a question form. It also has a wh-word (“how often”); this means it is an open question. Let’s look at how to form an open question using the present simple tense.

Present Simple Tense
Wh-wordAuxiliarySubjectVerb
Interrogative(?)(OpenQuestions)WhereDoI/you/we/theyWalk?
WhereDoesHe/she/itWalk?

Using the form box above, we can see that the structure used for forming an open question in the present simple tense is wh-word + do/does + subject + baseform.

We know that in a present simple open question, the auxiliary verbs do and does must follow a wh-word. This means option D is wrong as it uses the verb to be (was) and option C is wrong because it uses the auxiliary did. This is the past tense form of do, so it is also incorrect. So the answer could be A, B, or E.

To find out the answer, we need to know what the subject is. Here, the subject is 𝐷𝑖𝑛𝑎. 𝐷𝑖𝑛𝑎 is a girl’s name, so we need the verb form that is used with “she.” The table shows us that the auxiliary verb is does and the verb should be in the base form of the verb (not the -s form). This means the answer is A.

We already know that the present simple tense is used to talk about many things, including things we do every day, routines, facts, and things that are always true. Let’s look at some more examples of how and why this tense is used.

Use: Uses of the Present Simple

Things We Do Every Day and Routines

For example, “I brush my teeth every day.”

For example, “We play badminton on Thursdays.”

Routines are when an action happens very often or every day. It happens in the past, happens in the present, and will continue to happen in the future.

Facts or Things That Are True

For example, “The sea is blue.”

For example, “She loves chocolate.”

This is used for statements that are true. They are not single or finished actions. They are true in the past, in the present, and in the future.

We know the past simple is used to talk about completed actions in the past, but let’s look at some more examples of how and why this tense is used.

Use: Uses of the Past Simple

Completed Actions

For example, “He won a race last weekend.”

For example, “Nada completed her homework yesterday.”

A completed action is when an action is finished in the past.

Successive Actions

For example, “I walked the dog after it stopped raining.”

For example, “Before I went home, I picked up some shopping from the supermarket.”

When more than one action happens in an order, we call this a sequence. These actions can also be called successive actions.

Repeated Actions

For example, “They ate pasta three times last week.”

For example, “She asked questions in the class two times this week.”

Repeated actions are when one specific action is done many times in the past. This is not always done after another action.

Example 5: Understanding the Meaning of a Tense

Which of the following best describes this example?

Lions hunt wild animals such as antelopes and livestock such as cattle.

  1. An action or situation that is usually or always true
  2. A repeated action that happens regularly in the present
  3. An action completed in the past
  4. A regular action in the past that doesn’t happen anymore
  5. A sequence of actions completed in the past

Answer

In this question, you have to choose a sentence that has the same meaning as the example.

In this example, the verb is hunt. As this is a present tense verb, we know that C, D, and E are not the answer because they refer to actions happening in the past. Also, the sentence is stating a fact about lions. Since terms such as regularly and everyday are not being used in this sentence, we know that the sentence isn’t describing a repeated action. We now know the answer is A.

Example 6: Understanding the Meaning of a Tense

Which of the following best describes the underlined section?

I saw giraffes every day when I lived in Tanzania.

  1. An action or situation that is usually or always true
  2. A repeated action that happens regularly in the present
  3. An action completed in the past
  4. A regular action in the past that doesn’t happen anymore
  5. A sequence of actions completed in the past

Answer

Here is another question that will help you understand the meaning of the past simple tense. This sentence is in the past simple and asks you to look at the underlined part. There are two verbs in this sentence, but you only need to look at the one that is underlined.

The question is asking about the underlined clause “I saw giraffes every day.” The verb here is saw. This is the irregular past tense form of the verb see; this means that the action is finished. The term everyday means that this action happened more than once over a long period of time. We now know the answer is D.

Example 7: Understanding the Meaning of a Tense

Which of the following best describes this example?

I drank a cup of tea after I gave blood.

  1. An action or a situation that is usually or always true
  2. A repeated action that happens regularly in the present
  3. An action completed in the past
  4. A regular action in the past that doesn’t happen anymore
  5. A sequence of actions completed in the past

Answer

There are two verbs in this sentence, meaning that two things are or were happening. The word after shows us that one action happened after another. We need to check if the verbs are in the present or past tense. Both drank and gave are irregular past tense forms of the verbs drink and give.

We know that the answer isn’t D, because the verbs are written in the past simple, which shows a completed action. We now know that the answer is E.

Verb Tables

Here are all the ways to form the present simple and the present perfect. You can use this table to help you answer all of the questions in this lesson!

The following table shows us how to form the armative and negative forms of the present simple and past simple tenses.

Present Simple TensePast Simple Tense
SubjectVerbSubjectVerb
Armative(+)IWalkIWalked
Negative()DontwalkDidntwalk
Armative(+)YouWalkYouWalked
Negative()DontwalkDidntwalk
Armative(+)HeWalksHeWalked
Negative()DoesntwalkDidntwalk
Armative(+)SheWalksSheWalked
Negative()DoesntwalkDidntwalk
Armative(+)ItWalksItWalked
Negative()DoesntwalkDidntwalk
Armative(+)WeWalkWeWalked
Negative()DontwalkDidntwalk
Armative(+)TheyWalkTheyWalked
Negative()DontwalkDidntwalk

The next table shows us how to form a closedquestion in the present simple tense.

Present Simple Tense
AuxiliarySubjectVerb
Interrogative(?)(ClosedQuestions)DoI/you/they/weWalk?
DoesHe/she/itWalk?

This table shows us how to form a closedquestion in the present simple tense using the verb to be.

Present Simple Tense
Verb to BeSubjectAdjective
Interrogative(?)(ClosedQuestions)AmICold?
AreYou/they/weCold?
IsHe/she/itCold?

This table shows us how to form an openquestion in the present simple tense.

Present Simple Tense
Wh-wordAuxiliarySubjectVerb
Interrogative(?)(OpenQuestions)WhereDoI/you/they/weWalk?
WhereDoesHe/she/itWalk?

This table shows us how to form a closedquestion in the past simple tense.

Past Simple Tense
AuxiliarySubjectVerb
Interrogative(?)(ClosedQuestion)DidI/you/they/we/he/she/itWalk?

This table shows us how to form a closedquestion in the past simple tense using the verb to be.

Past Simple Tense
Verb to BeSubjectAdjective
Interrogative(?)(ClosedQuestions)WasI/she/he/itCold?
WereYou/we/theyCold?

This table shows us how to form an openquestion in the past simple tense.

Past Simple Tense
Wh-wordAuxiliarySubjectVerb
Interrogative(?)(OpenQuestion)WhereDidI/you/we/they/he/she/itWalk?

Key Points

  • To form the present simple, we use the base form of the verb or the -s form.
  • To form the past simple, we use the -ed form of the verb or the irregular form.
  • To form the negative and interrogative forms, we use the auxiliary verb do.
  • The present simple tense is used to talk about routines, facts, states that are permanent, and things that are true.
  • The past simple tense is used to talk about completed actions, regular actions, and successive actions in the past.

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