Past Tense Verbs

Understanding how to correctly form past tense verbs doesn't have to be a difficult task. With a few exceptions, English verbs follow reliable rules that you can learn. You'll be conjugating from simple to progressive to perfect progressive forms in no time!

Defining Past Tense Verbs

The English language has three basic tenses: past, present, and future. Past tense verbs describe activity, action, states or beings that have already happened.

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.

For example:

  • "We visited the grocery store yesterday."
    "Visited" is a simple past tense verb. It describes an action that has already happened.

  • "Emily had said that she went to the mall."
    "Had said" is a past perfect tense verb that describes speech that happened before some other point in the past.

  • "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.

Forming Past Tense Verbs

To construct a past tense verb, the first question you must answer is whether the verb is regular or irregular.

Regular Verbs

As you might guess by the name, most verbs are regular verbs. Regular verbs follow this pattern.

Simple Form

Progressive Form

Perfect Form

Perfect Progressive Form

Past

walked

was walking

had walked

had been walking

Present

walk

is walking

have walked

have been walking

Future

will walk

will be walking

will have walked

will have been walking

  • Simple Form: Regular past tense verbs in simple form end in "-ed."

  • Past Progressive Form: Regular past tense verbs in the past progressive form begin with the words "was" (if singular) or "were" (if plural) and end with "-ing."

  • Past Perfect Form: Regular past tense verbs in the past perfect form begin with the word "had" or "have" and end with "-ed."

  • Past Perfect Progressive Form: Regular past tense verbs in the perfect progressive form begin with "had been" or "have been" and end with "-ing."

Irregular Verbs

English is a complex language, drawing on influences from many sources. No rule is absolute, and many words take on irregular forms.The most common irregular English verbs are also among the most common English verbs, period. Bedo and have are all irregular.

Unfortunately, there are no rules for constructing irregular verbs in the simple past. That's what makes them irregular! Instead, we have put together a printable list of irregular verbs for your convenience. The use of had/have and -ing with irregular verbs for forming the progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive forms is similar, however.

Questions and Commands

Unlike many other languages, especially Romance languages, English does not usually have separate imperative or interrogative verb forms. Instead, questions or commands are indicated with changes in word order and punctuation.

For example:

  • "She walked" becomes "Did she walk?"

  • "She was walking" becomes "Was she walking?"

  • "She had walked" becomes "Had she walked?"

  • "She had been walking" becomes "Had she been walking?"

Verb Tense Resources

We have plenty more help for people trying to learn English verb tenses, including past tense verbs. To begin, try What Are The English Verb Tenses? to ensure you have a grasp on the basics.

Once you have those under control, move on to a deeper understanding of English verbs and their use with Categories of English Verb TensesExamples of Transitive Verbs, and our Irregular Verb Worksheet. Purdue OWL also has a quick, simple breakdown of English verb tenses. Use these resources and you'll have English verbs down pat.

Past Tense VerbsPast Tense Verbs

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