Understanding how to correctly form past tense verbs within the English language doesn’t have to be a difficult task.
Defining Past Tense Verbs
The English language has three basic tenses: past, present, and future. Within these verb tenses, there is a perfect form to indicate completed action, a progressive form to indicate ongoing action, and a perfect progressive form to indicate ongoing action that will be completed at some definite time. For example:
Simple Form Progressive Form Perfect Perfect Progressive Form
Past took had taken had been taking
Present take/s have/has taken have/has been taking
Future will/shall take will be taking will have been taking
will have taken
The purpose of past tense verbs within the English language is to express activity, action, state, or being in the past. For example:
“We visited the grocery store yesterday.” Visited is a simple past tense verb that is used to describe a completed action.
“Emily had said that she went to the mall.” Said is a past perfect tense verb that describes reported speech.
“They were driving for three days.” Were driving is a past progressive tense verb that describes a previous action which took place over a period of time.
English Tenses with Cartoons - provides a rather informative explanation of verb tenses, complete with clever cartoons to help you remember key concepts.
Forming Past Tense Verbs
To form past tense verbs, it’s helpful to remember these rules:
Simple Form: Although most past tense verbs end in -ed, certain verbs have irregular past tense forms that do not follow this rule.
Past Progressive Form: Use was/were with the verb form ending in -ing.
Past Perfect Form: Use had with the past participle of the verb.
Past Perfect Progressive Form: This tense is most often created by using had been and the present perfect of the verb (most often the verb form ending in -ing).
Be, have, and do are the most commonly used irregular verbs, but ESL Blues has a large list of English verbs with irregular past tense forms. Unfortunately, memorizing these irregular verbs is the only way to completely master the past tense.
Online Instructional Resources
If you’re a teacher looking for resources to use in your classroom, YourDictionary recommends visiting the following helpful websites for games, tutorials, printable worksheets, and lesson plans covering the use of past tense verbs in the English language.
For elementary students:
Lesson Plans Page has a lesson plan for grades 2 and 3 students regarding past tense verbs, but some of the activities may be able to be adapted for older students.
Teaching Ideas has a printable worksheet discussing how to change a verb into the past tense.
BBC has a fact sheet, quiz, and game for students to discuss the difference between various verb tenses.
For high school and college students:
Talk Easy has an interactive web-based tutorial demonstrating the difference between present and past tense verbs.