Past Tense: Meaning, Types, Structure and Examples [Complete Guide]

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Past Tense: It is deep down in the human bones to get nostalgic over the past. Sometimes, to reminisce over a moment of happiness, while other times to be reduced to tears. Nonetheless, we love to revisit the experiences of the past, learn from them, and march ahead towards a brighter future. But, have you ever wondered that without using Past Tense, you can never talk about your experiences and nostalgia?

That is why, this blog article focuses on highlighting the meaning of this Tense, along with its structure, types and examples. So that, the next time you share anything about any past occurrence, you would be a grammar nazi

Tenses Rules and Examples in English Grammar

What is Past Tense? – Definition

When we go by the books, the past tense is a verb tense that talks about things that happened in the past. It is formed by adding a suffix (-ed) to the base form of the verb, or by using an irregular verb form. 

Let’s take a look at the example below and you will know the best:

“She walked to the store”

In the sentence, the word “walked” is in the past form of the verb “walk.”

Also Read: Subject-Verb Agreement: Definition, 12 Rules & Examples

Types of Past Tense

Just like the Present and Future Tense, the Past participles also indicate actions in four different forms, which are tabulated below:

Types of Past TenseDefinition and Example
Simple Past TenseDescribes an action or event that occurred in the past and is no longer ongoing.
Example: He ate dinner at 6 o’clock.
Past Continuous TenseRefers to actions or events that were happening at a particular time/moment in the past.
Example: I was eating dinner when you called.
Past Perfect TenseSomething that happened before something else, that is also in the past.
Example: I had already eaten dinner when you arrived.
Past Perfect Continuous TenseDescribes actions or events that were ongoing or in progress in the past and were completed before another point in the past.
Example: They had been living in that house since 2005.

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Structure of Past Tense

If you want to be well-versed in the structure of this Tense, you should closely observe and learn from the examples and formulas in the following image. 

In order to get a clearer picture of the Past Tense Structure, let’s take a look at the changes in its auxiliary verbs when it transitions from positive to negative and interrogative sentences:

TypesPositiveNegativeInterrogativeNegative Interrogative
Simple PastSubject + Past Participle (V2) + ObjectSubject + did not Present Participle (V1) + ObjectDid + Subject + Present Participle (V1) + Object?Did + Subject + not + Present Participle (V1) + Object?
ExampleHe worked late last night.He did not work late last night.Did he work late last night?Did he not work late last night?
Past Continuous Subject + was/were + V(1st form + ing) + ObjectSubject + was/were + not + V(1st form + ing) + ObjectWas/were + Subject + V(1st form + ing) + Object?Was/were + Subject + not +V(1st form + ing) + Object?
ExampleThey were playing football when it started raining. They were not playing football when it started raining. Were they playing football when it started raining?Were they not playing football when it started raining?
Past PerfectSubject + had + Past Participle (V3) + ObjectSubject + had + not + Past Participle (V3) + ObjectHad + Subject + Past Participle (V3) + Object?Had + Subject + not + Past Participle (V3) + Object?
ExampleI wish I had applied for a visa today. I wish I had not applied for a visa today. Had I wished I applied for a visa today?Had I not wished I applied for a visa today?
Past Perfect ContinuousSubject + had + been + Verb (V1+ing) + for/since (time) + ObjectSubject + had + not been + Verb (V1+ing) + for/since (time) + ObjectHad + Subject + been + Verb (V1+ing) + for/since (time) + Object?Had + Subject + not been + Verb (V1+ing) + for/since (time) + Object?
ExampleShe had been feeling sick for a few days before she went to the doctor.She had not been feeling sick for a few days before she went to the doctor.Had She been feeling sick for a few days before she went to the doctor?Had She not been feeling sick for a few days before she went to the doctor?

Past Tense Examples

Let’s take a look at these hand-picked examples of Past Tenses. So that, the next time you encounter a sentence, you can easily categorise it. 

Simple Past Tense

Since you are already familiar with the simple past tense rules, [Subject + Past Participle (V2) + Object]. Now, take a look at the examples below to observe the formula:

  1. I ate a sandwich yesterday.
  2. She went to the park.
  3. He played football.
  4. They watched a movie.
  5. We bought a new car.
  6. The dog barked.
  7. The bird flew away.
  8. The sun shone brightly.
  9. The wind blew hard.
  10. The rain fell heavily.

Past Continuous Tense

Next, you should analyse the rules for Past Continuous Tense, [Subject + was/were + V(1st form + ing) + Object] in the following sentences:

  1. I was walking down the street when I saw you.
  2. She was cooking dinner when the phone rang.
  3. He was reading a book when I came home.
  4. They were playing games when the teacher came in.
  5. We were watching TV when the power went out.
  6. The dog was barking at the mailman.
  7. The bird was singing in the tree.
  8. The children were playing in the park.
  9. The car was driving down the road.
  10. The rain was falling softly.

It is important to note in the above-mentioned examples that the singular or second person of pronouns (He/She/It) is followed by ‘was’. While the plural or first person and third person pronouns (I/You/We/They) precede by ‘were’ and succeed by an auxiliary verb. 

Past Perfect Tense

As per the rules of Past Perfect Tense [Subject + had + Past Participle (V3) + Object] the sentence formation of the tense will be as follows:

  1. I had already finished my work when you arrived.
  2. She had lived in New York for five years before she moved to California.
  3. The car had broken down before we even got out of the driveway.
  4. The rain had stopped by the time I went outside.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The last and the trickiest part in the House of Tenses is none other than the Past Perfect Continuous [Subject + had + been + Verb (V1+ing) + for/since (time) + Object]. So let’s take a look at how it fits in a sentence through the following example:

  1. I had been working on my project for two hours before I took a break.
  2. She had been living in New York for five years before she met her husband.
  3. He had been studying for the exam for weeks before he finally passed.
  4. They had been arguing for hours before they finally made up.
  5. We had been waiting for the train for over an hour before it finally arrived.
  6. The dog had been barking at the mailman for a long time before I finally let it inside.
  7. The bird had been building its nest for days before it finally laid its eggs.
  8. The children had been playing in the park all day before they came home.
  9. The car had been broken down for hours before the mechanic finally arrived.
  10. The rain had been falling for days before the flood finally subsided.

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Past Participle Verbs

Once you get a hang of verbs, almost 60% of excellence in using the past form of verbs in a sentence is yours. Therefore, make sure you go through the following Auxiliary verbs before going into action:

S.No.VerbPast SimplePast Participle
10.Play PlayedPlayed
Types of Tenses Chart 
Past TensePresent TenseFuture Tense
Simple Past TenseSimple Present TenseSimple Future Tense
Past Continuous TensePresent Continuous TenseFuture Continuous Tense
Past Perfect TensePresent Perfect TenseFuture Perfect Tense
Past Perfect Continuous
Present Perfect Continuous TenseFuture Perfect Continuous
Past Unreal (Third Conditional)Present Unreal (Second Conditional)Future Unreal (Mixed Conditional)

This was all about the Past Tense Example, rules and more. Hope you understand the concept and where it’s used. You can also follow Leverage Edu for more exciting and informative blogs.

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