To Be (In the Past Simple)

This grammar lesson is about the verb To Be in the past simple tense in English. There are exercises for this topic here. If you want to learn about To Be in the present try this lesson. If you want to learn about other verbs in the past simple then try this lesson. All of these exercises are part of our Elementary English Course.

To Be in the Simple Past

We use the verb to be to describe states. When we are talking about the past we need to change, or conjugate, the verb into different forms. One of those forms is the past simple.

Today I Saturday. Yesterday was Friday.

There are two different forms of the verb to be in the past simple. They are was and were.

  • I was happy at the party yesterday.
  • They were happy at the party!

This table shows the use of was and were for different persons in the past simple.

Subject pronounTo Be (past simple)Example Sentence
IwasYesterday I was at home.
youwereYou were here last week.
He / She / ItwasHe was hungry this morning. / She was tired yesterday. / It was cold last night
WewereWe were late for class yesterday.
TheywereThey were happy yesterday.

Negative Forms of To Be in the Simple Past

To use To Be in the negative form we use not.

I was not happy at the party.

We can put the verb to be and not together to make one word. this is called a contraction. We often use contractions when speaking and writing informally.

I wasn’t happy at the party.

Subject pronounTo Be (past simple) NegativeContracted FormExample Sentence
Iwas notwasn’tYesterday I wasn’t at home.
youwere notweren’tYou weren’t here last week.
He / She / Itwas notwasn’tHe wasn’t hungry this morning. / She wasn’t tired yesterday. / It wasn’t cold last night
Wewere notweren’tWe weren’t late for class yesterday.
Theywere notweren’tThey weren’t happy yesterday.


Exactly like in the present, to form questions with To Be in the past we change the word order.

Were you happy at the party?

We invert (change the order of) the subject and the verb to be.

We can also use question words like where, why, when, what and who.

  • Where were they last week?
  • Why were they late?
  • Were they angry?
  • Was he tired?


Check that you understand how to use this grammar with these exercises!

Lesson Content