Past Simple Tense – How to Use it

Past Simple Tense


  • He finished work at six o’clock this evening.
  • Did he finish work at six o’clock this evening?
  • He didn’t finish at six o’clock this evening.

Use 1 – Actions Completed in the Past

When an action starts and finishes in the past, but more importantly, at a specific time in the past, we use the Past Simple tense.  It is not always mentioned what the specific time was, but often the intention to talk about one is there.


I went to the mountains yesterday.

I didn’t go to the beach on Sunday.

Last month, I flew to Spain.

Last Saturday, I watched a film at the cinema.

Did you see Kevin last week?

Sue cleaned her house.

I didn’t eat any lunch, but I had a large dinner.

Use 2 – Talking about Consecutive Completed Actions

When we tell a story, we often use the Past Simple to give order to those events. This shows a sequence to the events.


  • I woke up at 6.00, went to the bathroom, and had a shower.
  • They got on the bus, found a seat, and waited patiently for the journey to begin.
  • Did you take the shirts out of the washing machine, hang them up, and iron them?

Use 3 – To show Duration in the Past

When we want to express a state or an action in the past that continued for a certain amount of time, or a duration, we use the Past Simple.  We often use a time reference in the form of a unit of time. For example: for ten months, for forty-five minutes, all night, all summer etc.


  • I didn’t work in London for ten months. I worked there for nine months.
  • I travelled on the train for forty-five minutes.
  • I danced all night.
  • Did you travel through Europe all summer?

Use 4 – Past Habits

We use the Past Simple to talk about a habit which we did in the past. We don’t have that habit now. It is similar to the use of use to. It is common to see frequency adverbs with this use to identify more clearly that we are talking about a past habit.


  • I lived in France when I was young.
  • I always went on holiday in August as a child.
  • I never tried extreme sports until I came to New Zealand.
  • Did you ever go to the swimming pool after school as a kid?
  • When I was a teenager, I always went around town on my own.


Use 5 – Facts in the Past

Sometimes we need to talk about historical facts or even general situations in the past. Here we use the Past Simple.  Again this is similar to the form used to.


  • They didn’t go to town on a Saturday because they didn’t have a car.
  • You always liked tomatoes as a child.
  • Did people in your town eat out more in the past?
  • Teenagers didn’t have mobile phones when I went to school.

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