Past Indefinite Tense: A Guide to Better Grammar

past indefinite tenseHaving a strong grasp of English grammar can help you in a variety of ways. It can make your written and verbal communication stronger and can ensure that you get your point across more clearly. It can improve and heighten the quality of essays you are writing for academic purposes, and in the business world having a strong sense of English grammar can help guarantee that you are able to communicate clearly and to avoid problematic ambiguities. With English as the go-to language of business around the world it can also help to enable better communication with overseas clients and partners.

If you are new to the English language, you might consider staring your grammatical education with Udemy’s Intro to English Grammar course. There you will learn all about the rules, requirements, and uses of English grammar, including one particularly useful tense: the past indefinite.

The Tenses

To understand and better use the past indefinite tense you have to first understand what a tense is. Tenses are modifications to a verb (active words, such as to throw, to jump, to believe, etc.) that dictate when the action took place. There are three tenses in English: past, present, and future. Each tense when applied to the verb indicates the time when the action happened (past), happens (present), or will happen (future). Each tense has its own rules and many different categories within it.

The Past Indefinite

The indefinite tense is also called a simple tense. This particular tense has a variety of grammatical uses. Most often, it is used to communicate an action that has happened or been completed in the past. Generally, time of action is not stated directly (though it can be) but it makes sense that the action happened not too long ago. For example, they approached him indicates that they came up to him, that the particular act is completed, and that it has happened relatively recently.

When using the past indefinite, it is important to remember that it is only used to change verbs. These are the action words. The subject, object, articles, and more are not directly changed by the past indefinite tense. The examples below detail some uses of the past indefinite tense. Take not how the underlined verb has been altered to suit the past indefinite tense.

It is used to state an action that has been completed in the past with specific reference to when the statement was being made, such as:

  • I arrived quickly.

It can also be used to communicate an action that is habitual or happened regularly in the past, such as:

  • I ate dinner at my mother’s house those nights.

The indefinite past tense can be used to communicate an event that happened at a particular time in the past, such as:

  • We traveled nervously yesterday.

And it can also be used to express two actions that take place at the same time or when one action leads immediately to another, such as:

  • Same time: I ran to the store while my sister played basketball.
  • Leading: He broke her toy, she cried.

Basic Conjugations For Past Indefinite 

It is important that you know the basic changes that verbs undergo when they are put into the past indefinite tense. A few of them are as follows:

  • The suffix –d is added to words that end with a silent e. Bake becomes baked, smile becomes smiled, and free becomes freed.
  • A suffix –led is added to words that end in a vowel and the letter L. Travel becomes travelled and equal becomes equaled.
  • When verbs end in a vowel and a consonant, an extra similar consonant is added along with –ed. Admit becomes admitted and commit becomes committed.

These are the three most basic second form verb conjugations that make up part of the elements of English grammar. However, there are many more conjugations that need to be learned if you plan on using the past indefinite tense.

For Interrogative and Negative Sentences 

When the past indefinite tense is used for interrogative sentences (questions) or for negative sentences, most often the word ‘did’ is used. Did is the second form of the verb to do. There is no other conjugation used for to do in this situation, only did is used. In questions when the word did is used, and conjugated, it means that the main verb is not. In this particular use of the past indefinite tense the main verb remains in the present tense. Look at these examples below. To help, take notice that the word did is italicized and the main verb (in present tense) is underlined.

  • Did you travel to the market?
  • Did she tell you a story?
  • Did they run away?

For negative sentences in the past indefinite tense the rule is similar to that of interrogative sentences. However did not is used instead. Here the conjugation of the verb to do as did indicates the past, the addition of the word not indicates the negative, and the main verb is kept in the present to represent the indefinite. Here are some examples:

  • I did not catch the ball.
  • She did not carry the groceries.
  • We did not entertain our guests.

As the usage of the past indefinite tense becomes more complex so do the rules for it. In order to help you remember all of this consider taking Udemy’s course on grammar rules, support, and tricks. It can help you get a stronger handle on the many things you’ll need to remember to use English grammar correctly.

Understanding and using the past indefinite tense takes practice. Ensuring that you get daily grammar practice is a great way to stay on top of your abilities and help you remember them. If you really feel ready for a more advanced course on English grammar you can check out any number of great lessons that Udemy offers. Improving your English and mastering the art of the past indefinite tense can help you succeed for any number of personal, academic, or professional reasons. Why wait to get started? Check out Udemy today.