What Is the Past Tense? (with Examples)

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What Is the Past Tense? (with Examples)

The past tense describes a past event or a state of being. For example:
  • I jumped in the lake.
  • (past event)
  • I was happy.
  • (past state of being)
The tense of a verb is determined by when the action took place. The three main tenses are:

Examples of the Types of Past Tenses

The past tense is categorized further depending on whether the action was in progress or has been completed. The four past tenses are:

The 4 Past Tenses Examples Uses
simple past tense
  • I went.
  • The Martians landed near the aqueduct.
The simple past tense is used to describe a completed activity that started in the past and ended in the past.
past progressive tense
  • I was going.
  • He was painting the door when a bird struck the window.
The past progressive tense is used to describe an on-going activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.
past perfect tense
  • I had gone.
  • Silverfinger had taken the pill before the team reached him.
The past perfect tense is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another took place.
past perfect progressive
  • I had been going.
  • She had been painting the door before the dog scratched it.
The past perfect progressive tense is used to show that an on-going action in the past has ended.

Diagrams for the Four Past Tenses

The infographics below show how each past tense is formed and a quick overview of how each one is used:

Simple Past Tense

For example:
  • I played when I was younger.

Past Progressive Tense

For example:
  • I was playing for an hour.

Past Perfect Tense

For example:
  • I had played already.

Past Perfect Progressive Tense

For example:
  • I had been playing since I was ten.