The Simple Past Tense of Regular Verbs

The simple past tense of regular verbs in English is formed by adding ‘ed’ (or ‘d’ if the verb ends in ‘e’) to the end of the base form* of a verb. Except for the verb ‘be,’ verbs are not conjugated in the past tense-- we use the same simple form for every person, singular or plural. 

(The base form of a verb is usually the present tense for plurals, I, or you. It doesn't end in 's' like the 3rd person singular.)

Thus ‘live’ in the past is ‘lived,’ ‘arrive’ is ‘arrived,’ ’like’ is ‘liked,’ ‘walk’ is ‘walked,’ and ‘play’ is ‘played.’

"Before I married, I lived in central California, but my brother lived in Oregon. Our parents lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all their lives."

Spelling Changes in the Regular Past Tense

If a verb ends in a consonant and then ‘y’, the ‘y’ changes to ‘i’ (same sound) before adding the ‘ed.’ So ‘study’ becomes ‘studied,’ ‘carry’ becomes ‘carried,’ ‘cry’ and ‘try’ become ‘cried’ and ‘tried.’

There is one more common spelling change from the present to the regular past. For most regular verbs we keep the same vowed sound in the past tense as the present. (This is NOT true for many irregular pasts!)

So verbs that end in a silent ‘e’ will add a ‘d’ and still be pronounced with a long vowel in the past. Examples:

  • hope becomes hoped,
  • mope (acting sad) becomes moped,
  • plane (smoothing wood with a tool called a plane) becomes planed,
  • pine (longing for) becomes pined,
  • rape becomes raped,
  • robe (to put a robe on someone) becomes robed, and
  • tape (fastening with tape) becomes taped.

These pasts could easily be confused with the past tense forms of:hop, mat, mop, plan, pin, rap, rob, or tap.This second group of verbs end in a vowel and one consonant, causing that vowel to be “short.” If we just added ‘ed’ to them, they would look just like the “silent ‘e’” verbs above.

So we need to show which word we mean. By doubling the ending consonant of verbs like these when we add ‘ed,’ we keep these vowels short and show the difference between the similar words.So the rule is: If you have a verb ending with a single vowel and then a single consonant, to form a regular past double the consonant before adding ‘ed.’

Examples:

  • hop (jump on one leg)> hopped, 
  • mop (wash the floor) > mopped, 
  • pin> pinned, 
  • plan> planned, 
  • rob> robbed, 
  • tap> tapped, 
  • as well as cram> crammed, 
  • hug> hugged, 
  • and stop> stopped.

Pronouncing 'ed'

We do not normally add an extra syllable when we change a verb to the past tense. It’s easy to add a ‘d’ sound after a verb ending with a vowel or voiced consonant sound, like play or call.

However, if you try to pronounce a pure ‘d’ after an unvoiced ending sound, such as in ‘cook’ or ‘hope,’ you will add a syllable : cook-ed or hope-ed. (It's not possible to pronounce a pure 'd' sound in the same syllable,) So with unvoiced endings we pronounce the ‘ed’ with a ‘t’ sound.

(You don’t need to TRY to make a ‘t’ sound.If you try to make a ‘d’ sound in the same syllable it will automatically sound like ‘t’ after an unvoiced ‘ch,’ ‘f,’ ‘k,’ ‘p,’ ‘s’, ‘sh’, or ‘x.’ As a native English speaker, I never even noticed I was ending those words with a 't' sound. It just comes out that way!)

In words that end with a ‘d’ or ‘t’ sound we DO add an extra syllable (pronounced ‘id’), because otherwise we could not hear the difference between the past and the present tense of those words. So we pronounce such words need-ed, want-ed, pro-vid-ed.

Ending sound pronounced ‘d’: believed, called, cared, loved, seemed, tried, turned, used.

Ending sound pronounced ‘t’: asked, brushed, coughed, fixed, guessed, helped, looked, talked, watched, worked.

End with a ‘d’ or ‘t’ sound:-- add another syllable (sound of ‘id’) : acted, ended, hated, needed, provided, rotted, started, wanted.

For more on the relationship between spelling and pronunciation of these words, see English Vowels.

Irregular Past Tense Verbs

Even with these minor complications of spelling and pronunciation, the simple past tense in English is not difficult to learn. The difficulty is in remembering the many irregular verbs. Don’t let them scare you! Go to Irregular Verbs and the practice pages mentioned there. 

Learn the most common 20 (just one past and one participle form each) for a good start on using the past tense in English. Whenever you can, study another list. When you have learned and practiced them all (only about 65 more verbs), you will have all the forms you need to speak and write confidently in the simple past tense.

homeEnglish Verb Tenses > Simple Past Tense.

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