“To Be” Past Tense

The past tense of the verb “to be” is was and were. We use was with the following personal pronouns: I-he-she-it. We use were with the following pronouns: we-you-they. The negative form of was is wasn’t = was + not and weren’t = were + not. This explanation is better illustrated in the chart below.

I was
I wasn’t 
You were
You weren’t
He was
He wasn’t 
She was
She wasn’t 
It was
It wasn’t 
We were
We weren’t 
They were
They weren’t 

We use these forms when we want to use the verb “to be” in the past to describe; location, professions, marital status, age, feelings.

Expressions of past time

 Expressions of time
with the word yesterday
 Expressions of time
with the word last
 Expressions of time
with the word ago
Yesterday morning 
Last night 
One second ago 
Yesterday afternoon 
Last week 
Five minutes ago 
Yesterday evening 
Last month 
Twenty years ago 
The day before yesterday 
Last year 
One million years ago 

The chart below illustrates better the grammatical structure utilize to form sentences with the forms of the verb to be in simple past tense.

 Subject +

  Was or Were +  Complementizer  + Expression of past time
 in the restaurant
 last night. 
 in Italy
 two years ago. 
 last night. 
 last week. 
at the party
 last Friday. 
 in love
 a long time ago. 

The followig examples illustrate the grammatical structure utilize when making affirmative statements, negative statements and questions with the forms of the verb to be past tense.

  • They were teachers ten years ago. 
  • Were they teachers ten years ago? 
Affirmative Answer:
  • Yes, they were teachers ten years ago. 
Negative Answer:
  • No, they weren’t teachers ten years ago. 
  • Mike was here yesterday afternoon. 
  • Was Mike here yesterday afternoon? 
Affirmative Answer:
  • Yes, Mike was here yesterday afternoon. 
Negative Answer:
  • No, Mike wasn’t here yesterday afternoon. 
  • Betty was born on March 25th 1990. 
  • Was Betty born on March 25th 1990? 
Affirmative Answer:
  • Yes, She was born on March 25th 1990. 
Negative Answer:
  • No, she wasn’t born on March 25th 1990. 
  • We were single last year. 
  • Were you single last year? 
Affirmative Answer:
  • Yes, we were single last year. 
Negative Answer:
  • No, we weren’t single last year. 
  • Peter was sick three days ago. 
  • Was Peter sick three days ago? 
Affirmative Answer:
  • Yes, Peter was sick three days ago. 
Negative Answer:
  • No, Peter wasn’t sick three days ago.