The past tense can cause a lot of problems for people in English, because it has so many irregular forms. You learn that adding -ed to the end of the word means something is in the past tense and then you realise that this doesn’t apply to all the verbs and there are a whole load of verbs that have different endings. Unfortunately there’s no easy method to learn them, you’re just going to have to practise them.
One of the best ways to practise tricky grammar points in English is to find a language partner and to practise asking questions with each other. If you don’t already have one and you’re not sure how to go about finding one, then read this article on to learn how to find a partner for a language exchange.
If some of the questions don’t relate to you then you can make up answers. So if the question is ‘what were you doing while your children ate dinner?’ and you don’t have any children, then don’t worry. You’re not answering these questions to tell someone details about your life, you’re answering them to practise your tenses. A bit of role play can really help with this.
The simple past is the most common form of the past tense that we use pretty much every day and it basically refers to a completed action; as in something you have done but aren’t doing now, for example ‘I ate.’
Usually we form the simple past by adding ‘-ed’ but because it’s English and nothing is that simple we have a whole load of irregular verbs too. Some of these include eat -> ate, sleep -> slept, buy -> bought. Unfortunately you’re just going to have to learn these ones and the way you can do that is to practise them.
Here are some questions that use the simple past that you can use to practise.
- What did you eat yesterday?
- What did you do yesterday?
- Where was the last place you went on holiday?
- What was the last film you saw?
- What was the last book you read?
- What was the last TV series you watched?
- When did you learn to drive a car?
- What was the last concert you went to?
- How did you feel when you graduated from University?
- What did you do on the aeroplane?
- Where did you visit in China?
- When was the last time you did exercise?
- How far did you run yesterday?
- How did you feel when you realised you were pregnant?
- What was the first book you read?
- What was the first nightmare you had?
The past progressive is used for ongoing or repeated actions in the past, such as: I was eating.
Here are some questions that you can use to practise the past progressive:
- What were you doing when you heard about 9/11?
- What were you doing while your mum was on the phone?
- What was your partner doing while you were at work?
- What were you doing when you found out Princess Diana had died?
- What were you children doing while you were in the bath yesterday?
- What were you doing at 5 o’clock yesterday?
- What were you thinking about when you found out you were pregnant?
- What were you doing at 8 o’clock this morning?
- What were you doing when your first tooth fell out?
- What were you doing while you were waiting at the doctor’s office?
The past perfect is for actions completed in the past, a good example of this would be: ‘I had eaten.’
- What had you done before you showered this morning?
- What had you done before breakfast yesterday?
- What had you studied before your exam?
- What had you drank to make you that dunk?
- What had you eaten to make you so sick?
- What had you seen that made you not want to go?
- What had you done to deserve that?
- What had you taken from the shop?
- What had you broken to make you run away?
Here are some questions that you can use to practise the past perfect:
Past perfect progressive
The past perfect progressive is used for for an action that is ongoing or repeated in the past up until another action. So basically it’s a blend of the past perfect and the past progressive. It might be easier to see it written down: ‘I had been eating.’ So up until a specific point in the past, I had been eating.
Here are some questions that you can use to practise the past perfect progressive:
- What had you been eating before dinner was interrupted?
- What had you been doing when you found out you’d gotten the job you’d interviewed for?
- What had you been doing when you found out your wife was having an affair?
- What had you been drinking when you choked?
- What had you been doing when you fell off the bed?
- What had you been doing when your dad stopped you?
We hope you’re found these questions to practise the past tenses useful. The past tenses can be difficult to manage, especially because there are so many irregular forms in English, but practise is a sure way to master these tenses. Find yourself a language partner, then take turns asking and answering questions so you can practise these forms.
If you have any other questions that you think would be useful then let us know in the comments below. Also if you have any other tenses that you would like us to cover and give you questions to use then please let us know.
If you’re feeling confident with the past tense then check out our questions to practise the conditional tense here. It’s a great tense to master and the questions are a lot more fun because you can use your imagination in hypothetical situations.
Good luck with your English learning and remember to just keep practising.