Here we are again with an article about the simple past tense. This time, however, we are going to be looking at the behaviour of irregular verbs.
Working with irregular verbs is very different from working with regular ones. In fact, they don’t really follow rules, and all we can do is memorize them individually.
Today, we’ll be looking at the most commonly used ones.
Let’s begin learning all about how to use the simple past tense – Irregular verbs.
Conjugating the Verb ‘to be’
The verb ‘to be‘ uses two forms in the simple past.They are was and were‘. ‘Was‘ is used with singular
subjects, and ‘were‘ is used with plural ones.
Let’s look at the conjugation of the verb.
- I was
- you were
- he was
- she was
- he was
- it was
- we were
- they were
Affirmative Sentences and the Verb ‘to be’
To form an affirmative sentence we follow the same rule discussed in my previous article.
The formula is:
SUBJECT + VERB + COMPLETING PHRASE
- They were here yesterday.
- You were very kind.
- I was at home last night.
Notice that in two of the examples we have used words that give us the clue that the sentence is in the simple past.
We mentioned these words and groups of words in the last article. The words I’m referring to in these examples are yesterday and last night.
Negative Sentences and the Verb ‘to be’
In order to make the negative, all we need to do is to add the negative word ‘not‘ right after the verb. We can use either the long form or the contracted form.
Here’s the formula to follow:
SUBJECT + VERB + NOT + COMPLETING PHRASE
Take a look at the conjugation for both long form and contracted form.
- I was not
- you were not
- he was not
- she was not
- it was not
- we were not
- they were not
- I wasn’t
- you weren’t
- he wasn’t
- she wasn’t
- it wasn’t
- we weren’t
- they weren’t
- She wasn’t there last night.
- You were not very kind.
- They weren’t here yesterday.
Note: When forming sentences in the simple past using the verb be, we can use long form or contracted form. In most cases, the contracted form is used. The longer form is generally used to emphasize a point but both forms are grammatically correct.
Questions and the Verb ‘to Be’
When we’re working with questions, we need to invert the position of the verb and the subject just like we did when using regular verbs.
VERB + SUBJECT + COMPLETING PHRASE
- Was he a famous artist?
- Were you kind to my sister?
- Was she at home last night?
- Wasn’t he at the movies last night?
- Weren’t they your friends?
Note that the questions can be positive or negative.
In cases where we want to form more complex questions that use ‘wh’ question words, these words are placed at the beginning of the sentence. Once again, the questions can be positive or negative.
WH + VERB + SUBJECT + COMPLETING PHRASE
- Why was he in Italy?
- When were you kind to my sister?
- Why wasn’t she at home when I phoned?
- Why weren’t they kind to the elderly?
Irregular verbs don’t make their simple past like regular verbs do. Instead, they use several different ways.
1. For some irregular verbs, the past is the same as the infinitive form.
Following is a list of the most common irregular verbs used in English.
2. Many irregular verbs have only a one or two letter difference between the infinitive and the simple past. Below you will find a list of common verbs that fall under this category.
- hide/ hid
3. Some irregular verbs have more than one accepted past form and one is more common in American English while another one is more common in British English.
Here are some examples of some widely used verbs that fall into this category.
Note: The conjugation ending in ‘ed’ is more common to American spelling while the one ending in ‘t’ is more common to British spelling. However, both forms are considered correct.
4. The verb ‘go’ has a completely different simple past.
The conjugation of the verbs listed above are for affirmative sentences only. They are the only types of sentences that actually use the verb in the simple past. Other types of sentences use the auxilliary ‘to do‘ in the simple past and the main verb is in its infinitive form.
- Mary burnt/burned dinner.
- Tony forgot to do his math homework.
- The English teacher cut her hair. It looks nice.
When we conjugate verbs in the simple past to use in a negative sentence we use ‘did + not‘ + the main verb in the infinitive (see the formulas for the different sentence types). We can, of course, use either the long form or the contracted form, ‘didn’t.‘
- He didn’t get his test results yet. (simple past – got)
- The little girl saw a clound and cried. (simple past – see)
- He thought the exam was on Monday but he was mistaken. (simple past – think)
For questions, we follow the established formula where we exchange the position of the helping verb and subject of the sentence, placing ‘did‘ first, followed by the subject, followed by the main verb in the infinitive.
- Did he say he was coming today? (Simple Past – said)
- Didn’t she wear her running shoes to school today? (Simple Past – wore)
- Did you write that letter to the school board? (Simple Past – wrote)
- Didn’t the dog understand the command? (Simple Present – understood)
More complex questions using question words follow the same order as yes/no questions. The only variation is that the question word is put at the very beginning.
- Why did he leave his jacket at home?
- Why didn’t Karen meet Paul at the mall?
- How did you meet your boyfriend?
- Why did Mary make dinner if she can’t cook?
I hope you enjoyed this post and that it can help you to learn, review or teach English.
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