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Video:ESL: Past Tense for Beginners

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The past tense in English is full of irregularities, but simple conjugations are easy. Learn the basics and see helpful examples to have a better understanding of the past tense.See Transcript

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Transcript:ESL: Past Tense for Beginners

Hello I'm Milo for About.com and today we are talking about the simple past tense in English. 

Conjugating Regular Verbs

The most common way of making the past tense in English is to simply add 'ed'.  This is for regular verbs. Notice that in English this doesn't change for the person, first, second, or third. 

For instance, let's look at the verb "to walk": 

  • I walk
  • You walk
  • They walk 

But in past tense add -ed: 

  • I walked
  • You walked
  • They walked 

Notice how the 'ed' does not make a separate syllable, it is not walk-ed.  In this example the ed is pronounced like a "t" but in others it may sound more like a 'd.' For instance, the verb smell in past tense is smelled.  The 'ed' sounds like the letter 'd.'

Verb Irregularities

Finally there are a few words where you pronounce the "ed" as a separate syllable sounding like 'id.'

Take the verb "to visit.". In past tense it is visited.  Basically the pattern is that if the regular word ends in a 't' or 'd' sound you cannot repeat that sound so you pronounce the whole syllable, 'id.'  

But being English there are irregularities of course.  Some verbs change their vowel. Such as the verb "to run" becomes ran- I ran 5 miles yesterday. Or, swim which becomes swam- This morning I swam in the ocean. 

Other verbs change more drastically such as buy becomes bought. I bought a plant today. Listen to this exchange of simple past tense:

  • 1. What did you do yesterday?
  • 2. I bought a dress for Martha’s wedding.  What did you do?
  • 1. I saw that movie with Eric that I really I wanted to see.
  • 2. What did you think?
  • 1. I liked it alot.  May I see your dress?
  • 2. Not yet. 

Verbs & Verb Phrases

English relies heavily on other verbs to make verb phrases, so typically a natural conversation will have auxiliary verbs and others. For example, instead of saying I shopped yesterday, which is correct.  You would more naturally say, "I went shopping."  If you were talking about buying food you might say, "I did the shopping."

For more excellent, helpful, and interesting information on learning English please check out our site on the topic at About.com. 

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