Using the Past Simple Tense

Text ribbon: The past simple (usage & examples)

Are you wondering when to use the past simple tense? We'll learn all about that here and there are lots of examples to make things clear.

[Note: Click here to learn how to form the past simple.]

Past simple tense use #1: To describe completed actions

We use the past simple to describe a completed action in the past. The event or action may have happened once, many times or never happened. (It's over and finished and is not connected to the present).


  • I went to the store.
  • I played tennis several times.
  • My daughter hated that movie.
  • They fought over the television remote control.
  • Roger Federer played Rafa Nadal and lost.
  • I never studied Chinese or Russian.
  • The plant needed sunlight. It slowly died

Use #2:  To describe past situations / things

We learned above that we can use this tense to talk about actions but we can also describe situations and what other things were like with the past simple.

  • We lived in Spain for ten years.
  • My father was a very kind man.
  • needed a husband who was more supportive and sensitive.
  • It was a cold, windy morning.
  • As children, we were very naughty and made our mother angry.
  • What were your favorite restaurants when you stayed in New York?

Use #3:  To talk about a series of past events

We use the simple past to talk about different things that we did one after the other.


  • This morning, I slept late, stayed in my pajamas all day and ate ice cream from the box.
  • To get here I walked to the bus stop, rode two stops and then transferred to the train.
  • She cooked dinner, set the table and served wine but didn't eat anything with us.
  • I watched television, talked to my friend and then went to bed.
  • They laughed, cried and hugged each other before they said goodbye.
  • I called my mother, sent an email to my father and texted my brother the good news.

Use #4:  With completed time expressions

We use the past simple tense for actions with common time expressions that show something happened in the past:

  • last night / week / month / year / summer / etc.
  • the week / month / year / etc.  before last
  • Yesterday / the other day / the day before yesterday
  • awhile / a month / year / minute / decade / two days / etc. ago
  • In 2005, in the 1970s, In the Middle Ages 

Here are some more examples using these expressions:

  • Last night  my ex-boyfriend called  me when he was drunk again.
  • I forgot to call my girlfriend yesterday.
  • The week before last  I was late for work every day.
  • We vacationed in the Maldives last summer.
  • Did you listen to rap music in the 1990s ?
  • Who did we see the other day  at the party?
  • I finished my homework awhile ago.
  • I last had a check-up at the dentist two years ago.

Use #5:  In the second conditional

We use the past simple tense as part of phrases using the second conditional.


  • If I lived in Paris, I would speak French everyday.
  • You would make many new friends if you learned English.
  • If we earned more money, we would travel more often.
  • If he had the time, he would visit us everyday.
  • My father would lose weight if he exercised more and ate less food.
  • "If I were a boy, I think I could understand how it feels to love a girl." — Beyoncé Knowles

If you need to review how to form the past simple tense please check this page. I go over the positive and negative forms, questions, spelling and give lots of examples.

  1. Home Page
  2.  ›
  3. Main Grammar Page
  4.  ›
  5. Form: Past simple
  6. >
  7. Use: Past simple