Past Indefinite Tense in English Grammar

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 some past tense markers phrases in most of the places. Most importantly, the past form of a verb in the sentence is considered as the basic sign of past indefinite tense. This is my 6th lesson on Tense and its Classifications. In this lesson, I would like to discuss over its different structures, functions, and usages.

Though the simple structure and form of this tense is the past form of verb, there are some different cases in which, you must know the particular sentence patterns according to the Standard English grammar.
So, let’s start our discussion now…

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

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

So, you should remember that a sentence in past indefinite can be recognized by two ways. One is the past form of verb and another one is the past tense marker phrases.

Here is the structure of past indefinite tense:

Structure: (past form of verb) or (past form of verb+ past tense marker phrases)

It is not must to have a past tense marker phrase in each sentence of past indefinite. But it helps you to identify the tense. However, I will discuss over the past tense marker phrases later.

Now, notice the negative and interrogative structures of past indefinite tense. Yes, like Present Indefinite Tense, this tense has also an auxiliary verb. The one and only auxiliary verb of past indefinite tense is ‘did’.

But there is an interesting usage of the auxiliary verb ‘did’. Would you like to remember it?
What is an interesting usage of ‘Did’?

You know the form of verb in past indefinite tense is past. But when you will transform that sentence into negative or interrogative, you have to use the auxiliary verb ‘did’ before the principal verb and you must use the present form of principal verb instead of past form. The fact is that ‘did’ is a past verb.
If you again use the past form of principal verb, there will be two verbs in past form together. It is not necessary to use double past form verbs in a sentence. Again, when you will omit the auxiliary verb ‘did’ from the sentence, the form of principal verb will be transformed again into past. I think you have got it.

Negative Structure: (did not+ present/base form of verb)
I did not bring fruit for him.
( Here, the auxiliary verb ‘did’ is used and this is why the form of principal verb has changed from ‘brought’ to ‘bring’.


Interrogative Structure: (Did+ subject+ present form of verb+ object+?)
Did I bring fruit for him?
Did I not bring fruit for him?
I hope that you have now no problem in the structures of past indefinite tense and both in negative and interrogative forms. But, of course, try to remember always the usages of ‘did’ in case of both negative and interrogative.

Because, according to the statistics of ”OXFORD English Learnersand Cambridge English publication, most of the learners make a mistake in using the correct form of principal verb with auxiliary verb ‘did’. But it seems to me that the learners know the function but because of unconsciousness during applying language, they forget to use the correct form.

Anyway, now we should move towards the variations of past indefinite tense. I am discussing the variations step by step below along with examples.

Variations in Past Indefinite Tense

Variation- 01:

There are some certain phrases or words in English grammar which are considered as the past tense markers. If you remember those words or phrases properly, you will be successful to identify the past indefinite tense recognizing these words and phrases. Specially, when you are going to fill in the blanks, these words will help you to decide the right form of verb in a sentence. So here is a chart of those words and phrases for you.

A Chart of Past Tense Markers
Yesterday One day Previously
Ago In the past Before
Once Before Last night/week/month/year
Once upon a time Long time ago In 2010
Long since Previous day The day before
Back In those days There was a time
As if/as though It is high time I wish


Variation- 02: 
Generally, we express the past event or act in past indefinite tense in which we use past form of the verb. But, there are some events or actions in our past life which are considered as habits of past.

If we want to express any habit of past in our life, we must use a different pattern of verb (used to/would+ base form of verb) in it. You can use any of the two modal verbs: ‘used to’ or ‘would’.
I used to/would swim in this river.
(Here, the use of modal auxiliary verb-‘used to/would’ expresses the sense that I regularly swam in this river in past days of my life. It was a regular habit but I do not swim in that river anymore. )

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

Variation- 03:
If you want to request to 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 it 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 the past forms but here, they do not express the past meaning. They express the more gratitude or politeness. The expression is present here. Besides, remember 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)

Variation- 04:
Sometimes, we express that we did something in the past regularly. It was any past duty or obligation. But I do not do that work now. Besides, it was not my past habit. In such case, we will use the Structure:(was to/were to+ base form of verb) in the place of verb.
I was to go to Dhaka to bring the books.
He was to water in the garden daily afternoon.

Usages of  Past Indefinite Tense in Practical Life:

Now learn some situations or cases in where we should use past indefinite tense generally.

Usages: 01
Any general action or event of past will be translated into past indefinite tense.
I gave him a nice bag on his last birthday.
My friend broke your glass during drinking water yesterday.

Usages: 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, all the facts and variations of Past Indefinite Tense have been discussed here. If you study this lesson properly and apply the variations in your practical usages of language, you will be expert in using the structure of Past Indefinite Tense in your writing. So, hope to come back soon with new lesson as soon as possible.

Thank you very much.