Learn How to Use the Verb 'To Be' in the Past

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The verb 'to be' is used in many questions, such as 'Are you married?', 'Where are you from?', 'Are you happy?', etc. Once you understand the verb 'to be' in the present tense, learn the verb 'to be' in the past tense. 

Here’s a quick review of the present tense.

To Be - Present

I am – I’m / I am not - I’m not
you are – you’re / you are not – you aren’t
she is – she’s / she is not – she isn’t
he is – he’s / he is not – he isn’t
it is – it’s / it is not – it isn’t
we are – we’re / we are not – we aren’t
you are – you’re / you are not – you aren’t
they are – they’re / they are not – they aren’t

Example Present Sentences

She’s my sister.
They aren’t from Texas.
Peter’s a bank clerk.

Notice that the short forms of the verb ‘to be’ include: I'm, I'm not, You're, You aren't, He's She's it's, He she it isn't, we're, we aren't, etc. These are called contractions. Contractions are used when speaking and writing informal English.

Contractions make the short form by putting an apostrophe - ' - in the place of the missing letter. For example:

He is = he’s
They are not = they aren’t

Now that you remember the present form of the verb ‘to be’, let’s look at the past form of this verb.

To Be - Past

Here is the verb ‘to be’ in the past. Notice the similarity to the present tense of the verb. Also, note that there are no contractions used in the positive form of the verb.

I was / I was not – I wasn’t
you were / you were not – you weren’t
she was / she was not – she wasn’t
he was / he was not – he wasn’t
it was / it was not – it wasn’t
we were / we were not – we weren’t
you were / you were not – you weren’t
they were / they were not – they weren’t

Was and Were in the Past

Questions are also similar in the present and past forms of the verb ‘to be’. Take a look at these sentences to compare the two forms.

Where is Jack today? -> Where was Jack yesterday?
What day is it today?  -> What day was it yesterday?
Where are they today?  -> Where were they last week?


I am at home this afternoon.  -> I was at home yesterday afternoon.
We aren't in school now.  -> We were in school yesterday.
What is that in your hand?  -> What was that in your bag this morning?
When is usually she at home?  -> When was she at home yesterday?
He isn't a teacher.  -> He wasn’t a teacher.

Quiz

Use the past form of the verb ‘to be’ to complete the following sentences.

  1. She _____ (be not) at school yesterday afternoon.
  2. Peter _____ (be) at work last week.
  3. They _____ (be not) at the dance last Friday.
  4. We _____ (be) friends of Peter’s cousin in New York.
  5. I _____ (be) at the meeting on Saturday.
  6. You on _____ (be not) the football team in high school.
  7. My friend and I _____ (be not) late for work this morning.
  8. Jennifer _____ (be) at the party last weekend.
  9. The students _____ (be not) happy after the test.
  10. The dog _____ (be) in the living room.

Answers

  1. She wasn't (was not) at school yesterday afternoon.
  2. Peter was at work last week.
  3. They wasn't (was not) at the dance last Friday.
  4. We were friends of Peter’s cousin in New York.
  5. I was at the meeting on Saturday.
  6. You on weren't (were not) the football team in high school.
  7. My friend and I weren't (were not) late for work this morning.
  8. Jennifer was at the party last weekend.
  1. The students weren't (were not) happy after the test.
  2. The dog was in the living room.

Write some sentences using the verb ‘to be’ in the past. Remember to use time expressions in the past such as 'yesterday' or 'last week'. Example: I was at a party yesterday.

This video focusing on past tense will help you practice both irregular and regular verbs in the past tense.