USE 1 Completed Action in the Past
Use the Simple Past to express the idea that an action started and finished at a specific time in the past. Sometimes, the speaker may not actually mention the specific time, but they do have one specific time in mind.
- I saw a movie yesterday.
- I didn't see a play yesterday.
- Last year, I traveled to Japan.
- Last year, I didn't travel to Korea.
- Did you have dinner last night?
- She washed her car.
- He didn't wash his car.
USE 2 A Series of Completed Actions
We use the Simple Past to list a series of completed actions in the past. These actions happen 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so on.
- I finished work, walked to the beach, and found a nice place to swim.
- He arrived from the airport at 8:00, checked into the hotel at 9:00, and met the others at 10:00.
- Did you add flour, pour in the milk, and then add the eggs?
USE 3 Duration in Past
The Simple Past can be used with a duration which starts and stops in the past. A duration is a longer action often indicated by expressions such as: for two years, for five minutes, all day, all year, etc.
- I lived in Brazil for two years.
- Shauna studied Japanese for five years.
- They sat at the beach all day.
- They did not stay at the party the entire time.
- We talked on the phone for thirty minutes.
- A: How long did you wait for them?
B: We waited for one hour.
USE 4 Habits in the Past
The Simple Past can also be used to describe a habit which stopped in the past. It can have the same meaning as "used to." To make it clear that we are talking about a habit, we often add expressions such as: always, often, usually, never, when I was a child, when I was younger, etc.
- I studied French when I was a child.
- He played the violin.
- He didn't play the piano.
- Did you play a musical instrument when you were a kid?
- She worked at the movie theater after school.
- They never went to school, they always skipped class.
USE 5 Past Facts or Generalizations
The Simple Past can also be used to describe past facts or generalizations which are no longer true. As in USE 4 above, this use of the Simple Past is quite similar to the expression "used to."
- She was shy as a child, but now she is very outgoing.
- He didn't like tomatoes before.
- Did you live in Texas when you were a kid?
- People paid much more to make cell phone calls in the past.