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English grammar explanations (past simple).

Understanding past simple.

The basics - structure:

Past simple has two forms: regular and irregular. We consider a verb to be regular if it ends in "ed" in its past simple form:

walked, liked, jumped, wanted, waited, faded, played, cried, telephoned, etc,

Any verb which does not follow the "ed" rule is considered to be irregular:

went, had, taught, bought, put, made, wrote, was y were, sat, etc.      top arrow

Infinitive changes in the past simple.

Many regular verbs just add "ed" to the infinitive to make past simple:

repeat - repeated
remember - remembered
consider - considered
defend - defended

Regular verbs that end in a silent "e" or sounded "e", just add "d":

continue - continued
divide - divided
die - died
disagree - disagreed

If the infinitive of the verb ends in consonant + "y" (and the verb is regular), we change the "y" for "i" and add "ed". As these verbs end in "ed", we consider them regular:

worry - worried
carry - carried
copy - copied
cry - cried
reply - replied
fry - fried
bury - buried
identify - identified
marry - married

Infinitives that end in consonant - vowel - consonant, double the last letter in the past simple regular form:

rob - robbed
slip - slipped
clap - clapped
stop - stopped

There are some spelling variations between British English (Br.E) and American English infinitives (Am.E):

to practise (Br.E) - to practice (Am.E)

The student of English should remember that, normally, there are no inflexions in the past simple verb. In other words, the verb stays the same for all persons:

I walked, you walked, he / she / it walked, we walked, they walked.

I put, you put, he / she / it put, we put, they put.

The exception is with the verb "to be":

I was, you were, he / she / it was, we were, they were.

See here English irregular verbs and example sentences of their meanings...

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Question forms in past simple:

Questions in the past simple use the past auxiliary verb "did" in most cases followed by the subject + the verb in its infinitive:

I went to a football match yesterday.
Did you go to a football match yesterday?

I watched a good film last week.
Did you watch a good film last week?

The past simple of the verb "to be" does not take the auxiliary "did" in questions. There is just inversion between "to be" and the subject:

She was at home.
Was she at home?

John and Mary were on the beach together.
Were John and Mary on the beach together?

The old man was in the library yesterday.
Who was in the library yesterday?

The verb "to have" may take the auxiliary or not depending on its meaning and use. The rules on whether or not to use the auxiliary verb with "to have" are the same as with present simple - except, of course, the past form "did" or "had" is used.

Did you have a nice time on holiday?
Had you (got) enough money for the train fare?      top arrow

Omission of auxiliary "did" in past simple questions.

Sometimes a verb that normally takes "did" for questions is used without the auxiliary. When a question word (what, when, how, where, etc.) refers to the object of the sentence, we use "did". If the question word refers to the subject, there is no use of an auxiliary. This is common with the questions words "who", "which" and "what":

Who did you see yesterday? (who = object)
I saw John.

Which dress did you buy? (which dress = object)
I bought the red one.

What did you do last night? (what = object)
I didn't do anything.

Who went to the cinema yesterday? (who = subject)
Mary went to the cinema.

Which cat ate the fish? (which cat = subject)
The black cat ate the fish.

What happened last night? (what = subject)
Nothing happened.

In the above sentences, the forms: "who did go to...?"; "which cat did eat...?" and "what did happen?" are not possible.

See omission of auxiliaries do and does in present simple...      top arrow

Negative forms:

In the same way we use the auxiliary verb "do + not" in the present simple, we use the past form "did + not" for negatives statements in the past:

I didn't wait for the bus this morning.
John and Mary didn't play squash this week.

Similarly, as in present simple, the verb "to be" does not take the auxiliary in negative sentences but combines with "not": "was not", "were not" or as a contacted form in spoken and informal written English:

It wasn't a very nice meal.
My friends weren't at the disco last night.

The verb "to have" also behaves in the same way in negative sentences as in present simple and can take the past auxiliary verb "did" or the past tense of "have" ("had") depending on meaning and use:

I hadn't (got) any money left at the end of the weekend.
I didn't have any money left at the end of the weekend.
Mary didn't have anything to eat yesterday.

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Listen to the pronunciation of regular verb "ed" endings in past simple.

Although there is only one verb ending for all regular verbs in past simple, there are three different sounds for the "ed" suffix. The three sound are:

I worked, we played, she waited. ...

There are rules to help you know how these "ed" endings should be pronounced. Before starting on an explanation, it is important to understand what we mean when we talk about "voice" in phonetics. We can say there are two types of sounds produced in human speech: "with voice" and "without voice".

"With voice" refers to the sounds you make using your "vocal chords". "Without voice" refers to the sounds we make without the vocal chords. These are sounds made by the lips or tongue only.

Examples: The "M" in Madrid is with voice. It is impossible to say the "M" in "Madrid" without producing a sound using the vocal chords: Mmmm ... .

The "S" in Seville is without voice. We produce the "S" sound in the word "Seville" by positioning the lips and tongue in such a way as to say: Ssss ... . There is no vibration from the vocal chords when we produce this sound.


OK, now for the rules for pronouncing the "ed" endings:

a) If the verb in its infinitive ends in a consonant sound (not the last letter but the last sound) without voice (excepting the sounds /d/ and /t/), the "ed" suffix is pronounced /t/: ... .

Consonants without voice endings: I liked, I laughed, I passed, I trapped. ...


b) If the verb in its infinitive ends in a consonant sound with voice (or vowel sound, which always has voice), the "ed" suffix is pronounced /d/: ... .

Vowel sound endings: I prayed, I tried, I cared, it poured. ...

 Consonants with voice endings: I loved, it rained, I called, I hummed. ...


c) If the verb in its infinitive ends in the consonant sounds /d/ or /t/, the "ed" suffix is pronounced /id/: ... .

I wanted, I hated, it faded, he loaded. ...

In practice, it is the difference between the sounds /id/ and the other two (/d/ and /t/) which should be properly understood. In other words, we should not pronounce the past simple "worked" /...kt/ as "worked" / ( ... ) or the verb "played" /d/ as "played" ( ... ) / The correct pronunciation is: "worked" /...kt/ and "played" /...d/. ...

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Past simple - use in real life:

Completed events in the past.

We use past simple when we talk about finished, completed actions (compare with past continuous that talks about unfinished actions):

I went to bed, I watched a film, I played golf, I bought a new book on English grammar.

There must be an explicit reference to a past time action (we use time adverbs in the sentence) or an implicit reference to a past time action (we are thinking about a past time but we don't say it).  

Explicit reference:

I had a lovely dinner last night.
I went jogging last weekend.
The world was a better place a hundred years ago.
I studied the English verb tables last Monday.

Implicit reference:

I had a lovely dinner. (I'm thinking about last night.)
I went jogging. (I'm thinking about last weekend.)
The world was a better place. (I'm thinking about 100 years ago.)
I studied English verb tables. (I'm thinking about last Monday.)

Mentioning this use of past simple when there is a reference to past time is important. It is also possible to talk about completed actions but with a reference to the present. In this last case we don't use past simple, we use present perfect:

I've had a lovely dinner. (And now I feel very satisfied.)
I've been jogging today. (And now I feel very tired.)
I've studied the English verb tables. (And now I know them all.)

- Exercises on past simple...

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