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 three verb tenses, there is a progressive form to indicate ongoing action, a perfect form to indicate completed action, and a perfect progressive form to indicate ongoing action that will be completed at some definite time.
| || Simple |
| Progressive |
| Perfect || Perfect |
| Past || sang || was singing |
| had already sung || had been singing |
| Present || sing || am singing |
| have already sung || have been singing |
| Future || will sing |
| will be singing |
| will have already sung || will have been singing |
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.
To learn more about the various verb tenses visit the Past Tense Verb Chart and these online sites:
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 Lounge 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:
For ESL students:
- ESL Printables has a basic worksheet designed to help those who are learning English as a second language increase their understanding of past tense verbs.
- English-Test has a past tense verb worksheet that can be used as an online tutorial or a printable classroom exercise.
- English Page has an extensive web-based tutorial covering all of the various verb tenses. While highly informative, it is best suited for intermediate to advanced ESL students.
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"Past Tense Verbs." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 16 October 2018. <http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/verbs/Past-Tense-Verbs.html>.
Past Tense Verbs. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16th, 2018, from http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/verbs/Past-Tense-Verbs.html