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Past Tense

Term Definition
Past Tense

The past tense is a grammatical tense whose principal function is to place an action or situation in past time. In languages which have a past tense, it thus provides a grammatical means of indicating that the event being referred to took place in the past.

Introduction to the past tense

If you have found this webpage, then you probably want to know more about the nature of the past tense. The past tense is one of the simplest and most important verb tenses in the English language. It is used to talk about actions that happened in the past. The past tense is also the standard narrative tense for most storytelling: characters often don't "say" things, they "said" things. 

For regular verbs in English, the past tense is usually just formed by the addition of the suffix "ed" to the end of the base verb. There are several irregular verbs, though, where the past tense is formed in some different way. 

Rules and sample sentences

Here is an example of the past tense being used correctly within a sentence

"After waking up, he caught a bus down to the store in order to take care of his weekly chore of shopping for groceries."

In this sentence, "caught" is an irregular verb being used correctly in the past tense. 

Now, here is an example of the past tense being used incorrectly within a sentence. 

"They walking to the park yesterday after in order to play a game of football with the people from the other side of town." 

In this sentence, the present participle walking should be replaced by the past tense form walked. 

In case you are still a little confused about the past tense, here are a couple rules you can follow in order to make sure that you are using it in a correct way. 

1. The past tense is a simple way of talking about any action that occurred in the past. For regular verbs, it just consists of the base verb with an "-ed" added to the end of it. And for irregular verbs, you usually just learn the proper past tense forms with practice. It is really as simple as that. 

2. When talking about the action in the past, you can decide between using either the simple past tense, or one of a variety of other past tense forms that can express certain aspects of the past action in a more sophisticated way. The simple past tense, though, is usually good enough for just stating that an action occurred. 

Usage in writing

It is easy to imagine how the past tense may have been one of the earliest grammatical constructions to emerge during the language formation process. For example, the past tense would be needed even to express a question as simple as "Where did my friend go?" 

Likewise, the past tense is crucial for the practice of telling stories about cultural heroes, which was clearly the purpose of the earliest known forms of literature, such as the epic poem. In fact, it may well be because of this convention of the epic poem that the past tense emerged as the dominant narrative voice in other genres of storytelling as well, such as the novel. 

More complex forms of past tense constructions can be used to call attention to certain qualities of an action, such as whether the action was a continuous one or whether the action was clearly completed within the past itself. The simple past tense, though, serves the fundamental purpose of allowing speakers to just talk about past actions as such, without concern for these more subtle details. 

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