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 After countless documentaries and Shark Week appearances on the Discovery Channel, in 2019, Fallows is forcing himself to talk about these awesome sharks in the past tense. David Mckenzie And Brent Swails, CNN, "Has the great white shark really vanished from Cape Town's waters?," 28 Oct. 2019 Several of those in the Heat’s past tense will be in playing roles for contenders, with others merely hanging on. 1. Ira Winderman,, "Winderman: Ex-Heat still raising temperatures elsewhere | Commentary," 26 Oct. 2019 The collective millions of dollars spent to acquire and restore the cars, all the time, research and sweat — all slipped into past tense. Susan Callaway, Los Angeles Times, "Inside the elite, detail-obsessed world of the people who judge the Oscars of classic cars," 29 Aug. 2019 By the time the duo started performing the song a year later, Dye says, the pain had been in the past tense for a few months. Nancy Kruh,, "Maddie & Tae Rely on Real-Life Heartbreak for Music Video: 'Everyone Is About to Get a Front-Row Seat'," 13 Aug. 2019 The greatest danger, of course, of the government being able to pick and choose what kind of speech is allowed is actually not having the freedom to sell clothing bearing a slogan that’s essentially the past tense of the F-word. Katherine Timpf, National Review, "The Supreme Court Protected Vulgar Patents — And That’s Great," 1 July 2019 There soon will be a time when Whiteside will be past tense for the Heat, either with a trade in the interim or when his contract expires on the eve of 2020 free agency. Ira Winderman,, "NBA draft preview: Is post-Whiteside era at center the Heat’s next frontier?," 18 June 2019 Merritt referred to McStay in the past tense in an interview with investigators after the family vanished. CBS News, "California man guilty of killing family of 4 found in desert graves," 10 June 2019 These two meanings arise in human speech and writing whenever anything is expressed about a different time, and specifically whenever the past tense is used. Quanta Magazine, "Why Sleeping Beauty Is Lost in Time," 31 Mar. 2016

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.

See More

First Known Use of past tense

1729, in the meaning defined above

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about past tense

Time Traveler for past tense

Time Traveler

The first known use of past tense was in 1729

See more words from the same year

Statistics for past tense

Last Updated

6 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Past tense.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 15 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

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.”

More from Merriam-Webster on past tense

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with past tense Encyclopedia article about past tense

Comments on past tense

What made you want to look up past tense? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


delight or enjoyment

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!