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What Is a past Tense?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A past tense is a form of verb in which the stated action has occurred in the past, such as the simple form in which an action both started and ended in the past. There is also a form referred to as past progressive tense that refers to an action that started in the past and was ongoing at a particular moment. The past perfect tense is a form of the past tense in which an act began in the past and stopped before another action started, often used to state sequential information. There is also a past perfect progressive form, which indicates that a past action was ongoing before something else happened.

Even though certain types of present tense forms can indicate past action, the different types of past tense are used to refer to something that started and finished in the past. The simple past tense is the easiest to use and create and utilizes a subject with a verb that is conjugated into the past, also called a past participle. In English, regular verbs are usually conjugated by adding “-ed” to the end, though some irregular verbs can use different forms. “I ran,” “They danced,” “She skipped,” and “We laughed” are all examples of the simple past tense.

The past progressive tense is a form of past tense in which an action started in the past and was ongoing at a particular moment. This form is usually created by using an auxiliary verb, usually “was” or “were,” and using an “-ing” ending for the main verb. “I was running” is an example of this tense, and indicates that the action was ongoing at the time referred to in the statement. “They were dancing, when the kids ran into the room” and “She was skipping down the street until she got tired” are also examples of past progressive.

Past tense can also be used to indicate that an action occurred in the past and stopped, prior to another action in the past. This is called the past perfect tense and is usually created by using the word “had” as an auxiliary verb to the past participle. “I had ran for several minutes, before I stopped and realized I forgot my keys” indicates that this action started and stopped prior to the secondary action in the sentence. This tense is often used to indicate sequential events, such as “By the time the music stopped, they had danced for hours” or “She had skipped along for 20 minutes, but she stopped to eat some lunch.”

There is also a form of past tense that can be used to refer to a past action that was ongoing prior to an event that also happened in the past. This is something of a combination of the past progressive and past perfect tenses and is referred to as the past progressive perfect tense. It is created by using the present perfect form, with the phrase “had been.” For example, “I had been running, but then I realized I forgot my keys.” “They had been dancing, but he became tired and they stopped” and “She had been skipping down the street when that dog ran in front of her” are also examples of this ongoing action in the past, which is interrupted by another past action.

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