past tense


Definition of past tense

: a verb tense expressing action or state in or as if in the past:
a : a verb tense expressive of elapsed time (such as wrote in "on arriving I wrote a letter")
b : a verb tense expressing action or state in progress or continuance or habitually done or customarily occurring at a past time (such as was writing in "I was writing while he dictated" or loved in "their sons loved fishing")

Examples of past tense in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web One of the biggest difference from the series: Jonathan only shows up in the novel in past tense. Jenny Hollander, Marie Claire, "What Happens In the Book 'The Undoing' Is Based On?," 10 Nov. 2020 Trump has championed his counterterrorism successes at nearly every campaign event, often referring to the Islamic State in the past tense. Washington Post, "ISIS attacks surge in Africa even as Trump boasts of a ‘100-percent’ defeated caliphate," 18 Oct. 2020 The deployment of the past tense, this grammatical suggestion that the job was done, had sneaked into the Governor’s speech as well. Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, "Andrew Cuomo, the King of New York," 12 Oct. 2020 But Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic adviser, referred to the virus in the past tense even as the death toll in the United States surpassed 178,000. Star Tribune, "Scant mention of brewing crises at Republican convention," 26 Aug. 2020 Throughout the Republican convention, speakers referred to the pandemic in the past tense. Kyle Whitmire, al, "Good luck, America. The GOP has given up.," 29 Aug. 2020 Speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention referred to covid-19, if at all, in the past tense. Arkansas Online, "OPINION | PAUL KRUGMAN: April was Trump's cruelest month," 29 Aug. 2020 But few convention speakers made reference to the virus, while others have discussed it in the past tense. Jill Colvin, Anchorage Daily News, "What virus? At GOP’s convention, pandemic is largely ignored," 28 Aug. 2020 The mostly virtual convention this week hasn't focused on the coronavirus, with White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow even referring to the pandemic in the past tense. Naomi Lim, Washington Examiner, "Kamala Harris prebuts Trump's convention address with racial justice-focused speech," 27 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'past tense.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of past tense

1729, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for past tense

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The first known use of past tense was in 1729

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Statistics for past tense

Last Updated

13 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Past tense.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for past tense

past tense


English Language Learners Definition of past tense

grammar : a verb tense that is used to refer to the past

past tense


Kids Definition of past tense

: a verb tense used to express an action or state having already taken place or existed The past tense of the verb “run” is “ran.”

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