Grammar Guide – Past Simple Tense

Past Simple / Preterit

In English, the past simple tense is used to describe things which were true in the past (but not in the present) and to talk about finished actions which happened in the past (in finished time)
In inglese, il passato semplice è usato per descrivere le cose che erano vero in passato (nel tempo finito).

Past Simple – Verbi Regolari – Ortografia

As a general rule, the past simple tense is formed by adding the ending  “–ed”  to the verb infinitive.
Il past simple dei verbi regolari si forma aggiungendo ‘ed’ all’infinito senza ‘to’.
For example:

  • to walk — walked
  • to answer — answered
  • to want — wanted

If a verb infinitive ends with a silent ‘e’ we add the letter ‘d’ to make the past form.
Con i verbi terminanti in ‘e’ si aggiunge solo ‘d’.
For example:

  • to smile — smiled
  • to die — died

If a verb infinitive ends with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) and the letter ‘y’, we add ‘..ed’. However, if the infinitive ends with a consonant and the letter ‘y’ we and replace ‘y’ with ‘ied’.
Con i verbi terminanti in ‘y’ preceduta da consonante cambiano ‘y’ in ‘ied’.

  • to play — played
  • to stay — stayed
  • to cry — cried
  • to try — tried

If a verb ends with a single consonant, preceeded by a single vowel, we double the last consonant.
I verbi che terminano con una sola consonante preceduta da una sola vocale, accentata raddopiano la consonante finale.

  • to stop — stopped (fermare)
  • to fill — filled (riempire)
  • to plan — planned (pianificare)

However, many common verbs are irregular in the past:

  • to be — was (singular), were (plural)
  • to have — had
  • to do — did
  • to make — made
  • to eat — ate
  • to go — went
  • to drink — drank
  • to think — thought
  • to bring — brought
  • to drive — drove
  • to write — wrote
  • to ride — rode
  • to build — built

Past simple usage

We use the past simple to talk about actions or states that happened or were true in the past. When we use the past simple, we say when the past action happened. The past simple does not describe the process or duration of actions: it refers to them as completed actions in finished time. Finished time means any past time that does not include the present: we can use the past simple to speak about an action that happened ten minutes ago, last year or in January 1812.
Il past Simple descrive azioni, situazioni o stati determinati nel passato. Può essere accompagnato da un complemento che indica un tempo completamente trascorso. Si traduce molto spesso con il passato prossimo Italiano.

  • She went to Madrid in 2011.
  • I spoke to my manager yesterday.
  • John F Kennedy was the President of the United States of America.

Negative Forms

To make a negative statement with the past simple, we can add ‘did not’ or ‘didn’t’ between the subject and the verb infinitive. We can also use ‘wasn’t’ or ‘weren’t’.
Le forme negative si formano con ‘did not’ (didn’t) e l’infinito senza ‘to’.

  • I didn’t eat breakfast this morning.
  • I sleep very well last night.
  • I didn’t go to university.
  • It rained every day when we were in Paris so my wife wasn’t very happy!
  • Do you like my new shoes? I bought them in the sales, so they weren’t expensive!

Question Forms

To make questions using the past simple, we can use ‘did’ plus the subject and the verb infinitive if the question is positive, and ‘didn’t’ plus the subject and the verb infinitve if the question is negative. So; ‘Did’ (or didn’t) + subject + verb infinitive. We don’t use the auxiliary ‘did’ in questions in ‘subject questions’ when ‘Who…What…Which…’ (etc) are the subjects of the verb.
Le forme interrogative si formano con ‘did + soggetto + infinito senza ‘to’. Non si usa ‘did’ quando ‘Who…What..’ (ecc) fungano da soggetto.
For example:

  • Did you talk to Maria yesterday?
  • Did she receive my email?
  • Did she go to school in Rome?
  • Didn’t he pass his exams?
  • Who broke this window?
  • What happened yesterday?

We can also use ‘was’ or ‘were’ in some questions, if the subject is followed by an adjective. We can also use the negative forms ‘wasn’t’ and ‘weren’t for negative questions’.
For example:

  • Was she angry?
  • Were they late?
  • Were you at home last night?
  • Weren’t you tired after working all day?

If we want to ask for information (not only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer) we use a question word (or phrase) before did/was/were (etc). Common question words are ‘what, why, where, when’ etc. Typical question phrases are ‘what car, which house’ etc. For example:

  • Who did you see at the party?
  • When did you buy your house?
  • Where did you buy those shoes?
  • What time did he arrive?
  • Which school did you go to?

Common time expressions used with the Past Simple

Le espressioni tempo al di sotto sono normalmente utilizzati con il passato semplice:

  • yesterday, yesterday morning, yesterday evening….(etc)
  • last week, last month, last year, last night….
  • a month ago, two weeks ago….(etc)
  • in 2002, on my birthday. at christmas….(etc)
  • during the summer….
  • when I was at school…..when I lived in Spain….(etc)