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A. The Past Simple (Indefinite) Tense


The Past Simple is formed by adding -ed to the stem for regular verbs and by changing the root vowel or in some other ways for irregular verbs which need to be memorized. The form of the Past Simple is the same for all persons.

Table 4

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
  I you he she it we you they   worked   came     I you he she it we you they     did not       work   come      
  did     I you he she it we you they     work?   come?  


didn't = did not

When -ed is added there are sometimes changes in spelling, e.g. stop - stopped, study - studied. The ending -ed has variants of pronunciation depending on the type of a preceding sound:

It] after voiceless consonants Id] after voiced consonants and vowels (id) after [t, d]
watched worked stopped lived played used studied mended rented


The Past Simple tense denotes:

1. A single action or a state. The reference of the action to the past is typically indicated by time adverbials such as ago, last year (week, month), yesterday, the other day, in 1997, last (time), for five years, for a week, etc.

Ann spent a lot of money on books yesterday. It didn't rain last night.

When did you go to the cinema last?

She started learning the piano at the age of five.

I baked the cake for 30 minutes.

Note that when an adverbial denoting a period of time (for five years, for a fen- minutes, etc) is used with the Past Simple emphasis is placed on the reference of the fact to the past, not on the duration of the activity.

They lived in Brest for five years before the war.

2. A succession of single past actions.

/ entered the office, looked around and came up to

the secretary.

Habitual past actions or states.

I often went cycling last summer.

When it is desired to emphasize a contrast between the past and the present the construction used to + Infinitive* is preferable.

He used to smoke forty cigarettes a day till he

finally gave up smoking.

Do you play golf? - No, but I used to when I lived

in the country.

She used to be such a happy lively girl (but no longer now).

The construction would + Infinitive is also used to describe repeated past actions (but not states). It is more common for written language and often occurs in reminiscences.

* Note the difference in meaning between 'used to do smth' and be (get) used to smth or doing smth', e.g. We used to go to the cinema a lot but we never get the time now. It's hard to understand Scottish people if you're not used to their accent. I'm not used to walking long distances.

When we worked in the same office, we would have coffee together.

4. Reported present time actionsafter the reporting verbs like say, tell, ask, wonder, etc in the Past Simple (according to the rules of Sequence of Tenses).

Direct Speech Indirect (Reported) Speech
1. Jane said to me: «I am never late for classes». 2. Ann asked me: « When do you usually have breakfast ?» 1. Jane laid me (that) she was never late for classes. 2. Ann wondered when 1 usually had breakfast.

B. The Past Continuous (Progressive) Tense


The Past Continuous tense is formed with the help of the auxiliary was/were and the Present Participle of the main


Table 5

Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I was   working     I was not   working     was I   working?    
you were you were not were you
he she it   was   he she it   was not     was   he she it we you they
we you they   were   we you they   were not     were  


wasn't = was not weren't = were not


The Past Continuous (Progressive) tense denotes:

1. An action in progress at a definite moment* or at a definite period of time in the past indicated normally by adverbial modifiers such as at 5 p.m., at that time yesterday, from 2 to 3, between three and four, all the morning, the whole day, etc.

At one o'clock she was having lunch.

What were you doing yesterday at seven p.m.?

It was raining the whole morning.

The moment in the past can also be expressed by the context or by an adverbial clause of time.

I looked out of the window. The sun was shining

and the birds were singing.

When I came in he was lying in bed.

Obviously, the action of the subordinate clause of time in such cases is simultaneous with that of the principal clause. However, the two actions are not always identical in cha­racter. One can be an action in progress (i.e. a long action) while the other may be an event (i.e. a short action) which 'interrupts' the activity going on at the given past moment.

We were going down in the lift when it suddenly stopped.

* Similar to the meaning of 'now' in the Present Continuous tense, the definite moment in the past may actually mean both atand arounda particular moment in the past. The meaning of the Past Continuous in the latter case is that of a temporary past activity contrasted to a permanent past activity expressed by the Past Simple Tense.

// happened while I was livingin Bristol. They livedin London all their life.

There can be situations with two parallel past actions in progress, which are both expressed by the Past Continuous or by the Past Simple tenses, or there may be a combination of the Past Continuous and the Past Simple. The two simulta­neous actions in progress are normally linked by 'while'.

Jane was cooking while I was laying the table. While we were packing (packed) the suitcases, Bill was talking (talked) to the travel agent.

Note that when the two actions are not simultaneous, i.e.

when one action happened after the other, the Past Simple

is used for both the verbs.

When Brenda arrived I was telephoning Jim. (She arrived during my telephone call.) Wlien Brenda arrived I telephoned Jim. (I telepho­ned after her arrival.)

2. A past action of unusual frequency to convey a feeling of annoyance or irritation with adverbials of frequency like always, constantly (compare with a similar use of the Present Continuous).

When he studied at school he was always making trouble.

3. Present time actions in progress in reported speech after the reporting verbs like say, tell, ask, wonder, etc in the Past Simple (according to the rules of Sequence of Tenses).

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