The Simple Past Tense


The past tense of regular verbs is formed by adding ed to the infinitive form of the verb or by adding d to the regular verb if its infinitive form ends in e:

But the past tense of irregular verbs is formed in various ways (e.g. by vowel change, no change, or word mutation):

It must be noted, however, that whether regular or irregular, the simple past form of a verb does not inflect for number. Its spelling or form remains the same for both singular and plural numbers (e.g. I/We/They/You/He ate the food and praised the cook).



The simple past tense is used to express:

I) an action that took place in the past:

  • She was a spinster last year.
  • We visited her yesterday.


II) a habitual, or regularly performed, action in the past:

  • When I was in the secondary school, I walked five miles to school everyday.


III) an action in the present time with such phrases as as if, as though:

  • He talks as if he were the landlord.
  • Ezugu talks as if/though he knew the answer.


IV) an improbable condition where the verb in the if-clause is in the simple past while that in the main clause is in the conditional tense:

  • If I bought a car, I would carry you.



The Past Continuous Tense


The past continuous tense is formed by adding the present participial form of the verb to the past tense of the verb to be: was/were +… ing.


  • I/He/She was sleeping.
  • We/They/You were sleeping.



The past continuous tense is used to express:

I) an action or state which continued to happen before and after a particular time in the past:

  • He was having breakfast when we saw him.


II) a gradual development in the past.

  • Joe was not recovering.
  • His day was receding and night was drawing near.


III) past actions which continued for some time but whose exact end is either unknown or unimportant:

  • The boy was playing the church piano and the choir was singing nuptial melodies.


IV) narrative descriptions: 

It was a still night. Every creature was sleeping except Obodo. He was thinking about his lost manhood when, suddenly, he heard a knock on his door and woke up, shivering. (Note the combination of past tense and past continuous tense in narratives.)


V) a temporary situation in the past:

  • Joe was using my office when I was in London.

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