Past Simple: Point in time in the past

We use Past Simple when a completed (started and stopped) action took place

when the time period referred to is over:


Explicitly:

last + period of time: last year, last time, last month, last night, last week, yesterday

this morning (if speaking in the afternoon and on)

a number + period of time + ago: 1 day ago, 2 months ago, 10 years ago, a year ago (a=1)

during + past event: During World War 2, during his visit

Any other indications to the past events or actions:

When he visited us, ….(not Present Perfect here)

Any other synonyms of when:

At the time, they saw…, (when it was that time… – not Present Perfect here)

Other tips:

in + year

In 1999 he graduated from University

on + day

A couple of examples:

On Monday they went to the movies

On the twentieth of May they went to the movies

Implicitly:

When there is a context that lets us know that the period of time when an action happened is over, we don’t use “Present” Perfect:

Steven Paul Jobs was an American business magnate and investor. He was the chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Apple Inc.

(This was an example from a Wikipedia article) From the general knowledge about this legendary man, we can definitely and unfortunately say that we are talking about the period of time that has already finished. There may be different situations where you can figure out if the time period when an action happened is over.

Another way to think about it

at a definite point in time in the past:

I had my breakfast at 10 am (exact time expressed by time itself)

They left the room when I came (exact time expressed by another verb!)

She brought a dog home 2 minutes ago (by subtraction from the actual time of speaking)

at an indefinite point in time in the past:

I planned to retire ages ago

We forecasted this years ago

approximate time in the past:

Last week (a week ago, a year ago, last year etc) he dreamed of becoming an astronaut, and today he wants to be a doctor

She studied so hard last year

when the time period referred to is not over yet


We can still use Past Simple when a completed (started and stopped) action took place when the time period is not over yet:

What did you do at work today? (Asking about activities)

What have you done at work today? (Asking about results, we have used Present Perfect here)

In a nutshell:

We use Past Simple when something happened at a given point or period in time in the past, this action started and stopped. Signal words:

ago, when, at 7, on the 2nd of May, yesterday, last year etc

Back to: Past Simple Tense

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