Past Indefinite Tense (Simple Past): 4 Rules & Examples

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Want to learn 4 rules and examples of Past Indefinite Tense/ Simple Past Tense to express any action or event of the past maintaining the rules of using past forms of verbs and their structure? Here is the lesson to learn the proper way of using past indefinite tense along with its structures, variations, and usages.


Through learning this lesson, you will be able to describe any action or event of the past time in written form.

So, let’s jump there…

But, first of all, we have to learn the structure and form of past indefinite tense. If you haven’t studied other previous lessons on the tense classifications, i would like to suggest you to read those lessons first before going through this lesson.

What is Past Indefinite Tense?

The tense through which any action or event of past is expressed, is considered as Past Indefinite Tense in English grammar. We use this tense in order to express the acts of past using past form of verbs and some past tense markers phrases.

Most importantly, the past form of a verb in a sentence is considered as the basic sign of simple past tense. It’s similar to the structure of present indefinite/ simple present tense. The only difference is the time frame of an action or event.


At first notice these sentences in past indefinite tense:
bought some fruits for him.
(Here, the verb ‘bought’ is the past form of the verb ‘buy’)

They invited me last night on their party.
(Here, the verb ‘invited’ is in past form of the verb ‘invite’ and the phrase ‘last night’ is the past marker.

So, always remember that a sentence in past indefinite can be recognized in 2 ways. One is the past form of the verb and another one is the use of past tense marker phrases in a sentence. I hope you have understood that it’s too much easier to recognize a past sentence in a paragraph, report, or essay.

Simple Past Tense Structure

A sentence in simple past tense will always have either the past form of the principal verb or past form of the verb with a past tense marker phrase in its structure. This is the major sign of recognizing the tense of a sentence in English language. So, please note:

(Past form of verb) or (Past form of verb+ Past tense marker phrases)

Structure: Subject + Past form of verb + Object + Extension/ Past tense marker phrase

Mr. Rahman gave me a pen.
Mr. Rahman gave me a pen yesterday.

Remember, there is no obligation in case of using ‘past tense marker phrases’. A sentence with only a ‘past form of verb’ is past simple tense or past indefinite tense. When you will go for long sentences, there will come ‘past tense marker phrases’ to indicate exact time in the past.

So, in order to write sentences in simple past tense, you have memorize the ‘past forms of the verbs’ and the list of the ‘past tense marker phrases’.

Now, we will learn the negative and interrogative structures of past indefinite tense. When you will write a past sentence in negative or interrogative form, the auxiliary verb “did” will be used. The one and only auxiliary verb of past indefinite tense is ‘did’.

did you know - Past Indefinite Tense
did you know?

When and How to Use ‘Did’ in Past Tense?

An Interesting Fact about ‘Did’!

There is an interesting function of the auxiliary verb ‘did’. The auxiliary verb “did” is the past form of the verb “do”. You have already learnt that the form of verb will be always “past” in case of past indefinite tense.

But when you will express a past action in negative or interrogative form, you have to use the auxiliary verb ‘did”

But wait… we learnt that there will be a past verb in a past indefinite tense. So, if we add ‘did’, it makes two verbs in a sentence and both are in past form.


Can we use two past verbs in a single sentence?
No, we can’t.
There will be always a single past verb in a past sentence.


So, what’s the solution?
The solution is having the auxiliary verb ‘did’ as a past verb and convert the form of the main verb into present form. Whenever ‘did’ will come in a sentence, the main verb will be converted into present form from the past.

Have a look on these examples:
Mr. Rahman gave me a pen yesterday.
Negative: Mr. Rahman did not give me a pen yesterday.
Interrogative: Did Mr. Rahman give me a pen yesterday?

So, you can see how the main verb is getting back to present form as soon as ‘did’ is added. So, the structures are:

Negative Structure:

Subject + did not + present form of main verb + object + extension.

Negative: Mr. Rahman did not give me a pen yesterday.

NOTE: Here, the auxiliary verb ‘did’ is used and this is why the form of main verb is changed from ‘gave’ to ‘give’.

Interrogative Structure:

Did + Subject + present form of main verb + object + extension?

Interrogative: Did Mr. Rahman give me a pen yesterday?

Using ‘did’ and not changing the form of the main verb into present is one of the top mistakes in the world, people do, according to the statistics of ”OXFORD English Learners” and Cambridge English publication
So, be careful about this.


4 Rules of Past Indefinite Tense

Now, we will learn about the variations of past indefinite tense and how they work.

Rule 01 – Past Indefinite Tense Marker Words & Phrases

There are some certain phrases or words in English language which are considered as the past tense markers because they indicate a past moment of an action or event. If you memorize these words or phrases properly, you will be able to identify the time of an action or event.

This small chart of these words/phrases will also help you to solve the fill in the blanks questions in your academic exams.

Past Tense Marker Words & Phrase Chart

YesterdayOne dayPreviously
AgoIn the pastBefore
OnceBeforeLast night/week/month/year
Once upon a timeLong time agoIn 2010
Long sincePrevious dayThe day before
BackIn those daysThere was a time
As if/as thoughIt is high timeI wish
Past Tense Markers Chart

We came here last night with our relatives.
Long time ago, i went there with my friends.
I won the first prize in 2015.

Rule 02 – Habit / Regular Action or Event of Past Moments

Generally, we express a past event or action in simple past tense where we basically use past form of the main verb. But, there are a few actions or events in our past life which are considered as habits of past instead of normal action.

If we want to express any habit of our past life, we must use a different form of verb (used to/would+ base form of verb) in it. You can use one of these two modal verbs: ‘used to’ or ‘would’.

used to/would swim in this river.
NOTE: Here, the use of the modal auxiliary verb-‘used to/would’ indicates that I regularly swam in this river in past days of my life. It was a regular habit of past but I do not swim in this river anymore.

He used to/would play cricket in this field in his childhood.
(In his childhood, ‘playing cricket’ in this field was his daily action of life. But many years have passed. And now it is only in memories.)

Rule 03 – Formal Request or Official Expression

If you want to request someone for something or pray for permission at present, you simply can use the modal verb ‘can/may/will’ at the starting of the sentence. But if you want to make the request more formal or want to express it officially, you must use the modal verb-‘would or could’ at the starting of the question.

Though the modal verb-‘would and could’ are in past forms but the meaning of the sentences do not indicate past action or event. They express deep gratitude or politeness. The expression and meaning of these sentences are present here. Besides, please note that the verb ‘would’ is more formal than the verb ‘could’.


Would you give me a pen please? (Formal expression)
Could you shut the window now? (Semi-formal expression)

Rule 04 – Any Past Duty or Obligation

Sometime, we indicate any past duty or obligation. But we do not do that work now. Besides, it was not our past regular habit. In such cases, we will use the structure: (was to/were to+ base form of verb) in the place of verb.

was to go to Dhaka to bring the books.
He was to water in the garden daily afternoon.

Usages & Examples of Simple Past Tense in Practical Life

Now here are some situations or cases where we should use simple past tense normally.

01 – Any general action or event of past will be written or spoken using the structure of past indefinite tense.

gave him a nice bag on his last birthday.
My friend broke your glass during drinking water yesterday.

 02 – Any fairy story or general history should be expressed in past indefinite tense.

The king ordered the boy to tell the truth.
Jerry helped the writer to collect woods.


So, these are all about the structures, rules, and usages of Past Indefinite Tense in English language. It’s one of the most used tenses among all tenses in English grammar.

In case of writing any composition based on the past event or action, past indefinite tense is the only tense, you have to use in sentence structure. Besides, to understand the important grammatical lesson- ‘Tag Questions‘, you must learn this tense.


After reading this lesson, you can move to next lesson of tense: Future Indefinite

Now try to use this tense in your daily assignments and let us know about your thoughts on this lesson: ‘Past Indefinite Tense’ using the comment box below. Last of all, share this lesson with your friends or classmates to help them learn simple past tense with rules and examples.