Past Indefinite tense: rules, usages and tips

Most of our conversations are incomplete without using the Past Indefinite tense. And if you are a girl, this probably is more true.

Why am I saying it? Why is the Past Indefinite tense vital to use in the English language?

Most of our conversations are almost incomplete without gossiping about someone’s past or narrating a story or simply talking about a past event. And that is why we need this tense.

When to use the Past indefinite tense?

Past Indefinite tense definition: The Past Indefinite tense, also known as the Simple Past tense, is used to talk about actions that occurred in the past at a specific time.

Always remember, the time of the action, if not already understood, needs to be mentioned as this is an important facet of the Past Indefinite tense.

The word that talks about the past time is called the past time marker. Here are some common time markers:

Yesterday, last night, last week, last month, last year, last summer, last season, last decade, last quarter, last night, that day, that night, etc.

Past indefinite tense use

The Past Indefinite tense examples

  • She proposed me last night.
  • One of my school friends had an accident last week.
  • I woke up at 5 a.m.
  • Jim died in a car accident last year.
  • We went to see him yesterday.
  • He said a lot of mean things to me in that meeting.
  • We did not say anything to him. He looked out of his mind.
  • Why did you call me yesterday?
  • What did you have last night?

NOTE: avoid mentioning the time of the action if that is already understood by the person/people that you are communicating with.

Look at the following conversation to understand the context:

Mom: Where did you go last night?
Me: I went to Jim’s place.

Mom: What did you guys do?
Me: We worked on a project together and discussed some things.

Notice, the conversation is about a particular time in the past that is “last night.” In the first sentence, the past time marker is mentioned, so we don’t need to use it over and over again, and we did not.

Now, before we look at different situations where we use the Past Indefinite tense, let’s look at how to form sentences in Past Indefinite tense.

The Past Indefinite tense structure

Let’s look at rules of the Past Indefinite tense now!

1. Affirmative sentence

SubjectV2object/modifier (optional)past time marker

Examples:

  • They insulted me in that meeting.
  • My students played a prank on me in the previous class.
  • She called me 15 times last night.

2. Negative sentences

Subjectdid + notV1object/modifier (optional)past time marker

Examples:

  • They did not insult me in that meeting.
  • My students didn’t play a prank on me in the previous class.
  • She didn’t call me last night.

Didn’t = did not

3. Interrogative sentences

Use the following structure to ask a question that can be answered in YES or NO:

DidsubjectV1object/modifier (optional)past time marker?

Examples:

  • Did you call me last night?
  • Did you just touch me?
  • Did she just call you a moron?
  • Did they live with you?

All these questions can be answered in simple YES or NO. To know the details of the event happened, use the following WH question words before the auxiliary verb (DID): what, when, where, why, how

WH question worddidsubjectV1object/modifier (optional)past time marker?

Examples:

  • When did you call me?
  • Why did you just touch me?
  • What did he eat with you in the party?
  • How did you do that?
  • Where did they live with you?

NOTE: use ‘NOT’ after the subject to form an interrogative negative sentence. But avoid asking negative questions as they confuse people in terms of whether the answer should be positive or negative.

Here’s an example of an interrogative negative sentence in the Past Indefinite tense:

  • Did you not eat my sandwich?

Wasn’t it confusing to answer? 😉

Now, let’s talk about different usages of the Past Indefinite tense.

The Past Indefinite tense usages

1. To talk about actions happened at a particular time in the past

The most common way to use the Past Indefinite tense is to talk about actions that happened at a particular time in the past. Here are some examples for demonstration:

  • She came to see me last night.
  • We went shopping in the morning.
  • Did you talk to him yesterday?
  • Everybody supported me in that meeting.

2. A series of completed actions

If a series of actions happened at a particular time in the past, use the Past indefinite tense to talk about it.

  • Last night, he walked into my room, woke me up, and took me somewhere with him.
  • After reaching there in the morning, we checked in to the hotel, got into our room, had breakfast, and went shopping.
  • Yesterday, after the class, we closed the door, turned the music on, and started dancing like no one was there in the college.

3. Repeated actions/habits in the past

If an action occurred multiple times in the past, use the Past Indefinite tense to talk about it.

  • We never attended his class, we always bunked it.
  • Jon worked at a hotel after school.
  • I played cricket when I was in college.
  • She played the guitar in school.

4. To describe something or someone

Another common usage of the Past Indefinite tense is to describe someone or something in the past. Here are the examples that demonstrate it:

  • He was sad last night.
  • They were very mean to me in school.
  • She was not happy in the meeting.
  • The movie was spine-chilling.
  • The food was scrumptious.
  • Last night, the weather was extremely pleasant.
  • You were my friend last night.

Structure: Subject + was/were + adjective/noun

  • Singular subject = was
  • Plural subject = were

5. To talk about the completed action and its duration in the past

If an action happened for a period of time in the past, use the Past Indefinite tense to talk about it.

  • I lived in Japan for 5 years.
  • Last night, we danced for hours.
  • Riya and I talked on the phone for an hour.
  • Everyone waited for you at the stand for some hours.
  • Max studied Chinese for 4 years.

Use of adverbs in the Past Indefinite tense

Adverbs like just, recently, never are placed just after the subject.

Examples:

  • I just called her.
  • I never played cricket in school.
  • Jon recently bought a car.

The Past Indefinite tense active and passive voice

  • I bought a car last night. (active)
  • A car was bought last night (by me). (passive)
  • She called me yesterday. (active)
  • I was called yesterday. (passive)
  • Did you finish the book last week? (active)
  • Was the book finished last week? (passive)
  • She baked some amazing cookies. (active)
  • Some amazing cookies were baked (by her). (passive)
ACTIVE STRUCTUREsubjectv2objectpast time marker
PASSIVE STRUCTUREobjectwas/wereV3 (past participle)by the doer (optional)

TIP: use the passive structure of the Past Indefinite tense when what the action acted upon is more important than who did it. And we generally don’t mention the doer of the action in passive voice.

Also check out the post on the Present indefinite tense.

Here is my YouTube video on the past indefinite tense:

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