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What is the Past Tense of Be

The English verb “to be” is arguably the most fundamental, most important and most basic verb that learners have to master. It is used not only as a standalone verb, but also as an important part of different grammatical structures, such as the passive voice.

There’s no way to master even the basics of the language without a good understanding of “to be” and that includes its past tense forms.

The basic past tense form of “be” is either “was” or “were” depending on the subject. The past participle is “been.”

What is the past tense of “be”?

Be (verb):

(1) To exist; to have life or form

(2) To occur or to take place

  • Infinitive                     to be
  • Simple Past                was/were
  • Past Participle            been

Conjugation Table of “be”

 PronounInfinitiveSimple PastPresent PerfectPresent Continuous
Iamwashave beenam being
You (sing.)arewerehave beenare being
He/She/Itiswashas beenis being
Wearewerehave beenare being
You (pl.)arewerehave beenare being
Theyarewerehave beenare being

Example Sentences of “be”

(1) To exist; to have life or form

  • He is a lawyer, working in London
  • We were in Seattle last year, but now we are based in Austin
  • They are members of a very prestigious golf club

(2) To occur or to take place

  • The Olympics will be in Paris next year
  • When will our final exams be?
  • You said the exhibition was held in the autumn last year, but can you give us a more precise idea of when that was?

Focus: Past Tense of Be

There’s no way any learner of English can do without a strong knowledge of the verb “to be” and that includes the ways it is used in present, past, perfect and other forms. Below, we have prepared a number of sentences that use past tense forms, including the following:

  • Simple past
  • Present perfect
  • Past continuous
  • Past perfect

Simple Past of Be

  • He was upset when he learned about his uncle’s sudden death
  • We were surprised to hear that you had arrived in London last night
  • I was quite a good golfer when I was young, but I’m afraid now I’m a bit rusty

Present Perfect of Be

  • I have been to New York several times already, and I love it there
  • We have been studying English for 2 years already, but are struggling to progress to an advanced level
  • The Olympics has been in London 3 times in the past, the most recent being 2012

Past Continuous of Be

  • I’m afraid I was being rather silly yesterday during our meeting, I apologize for that
  • We were being constantly harassed by our neighbors when we lived there, so were glad to leave when we did
  • He was being idealistic when he proposed a new system of government for the country

Past Perfect of Be

  • You had already been a respected teacher for years when this news broke out?
  • They had been good friends right up until that point

How to Use ‘Was’ and ‘Were’ in a Sentence

Understanding the correct usage of ‘was’ and ‘were’, the past tense forms of ‘be’, can significantly improve your English. Here are some examples:

  1. I was at the mall when I received your call.
  2. You were right about the weather. It rained all day.
  3. The weather was beautiful yesterday.
  4. We were just about to leave when the phone rang.

Understanding the Verb “Be”

One of the most fundamental verbs in the English language, “be” traces its roots back to Old English “bēon,” meaning “to exist.” Serving as a primary auxiliary verb, “be” is also used to indicate identity, qualities, states, or conditions.

Phrasal Verbs with “Be”

The versatility of “be” is showcased in its phrasal verbs:

  • Be up to: To be responsible for or to feel like doing.
    • What have you been up to lately?
    • It’s up to you to decide.
  • Be out of: To have run out of something.
    • I’m out of milk; can you get some?
    • She’s out of touch these days.
  • Be in for: To be about to experience something.
    • You’re in for a surprise.
    • If it rains, we’re in for delays.

Common Mistakes

Beware of these common errors with “be”:

  • Incorrect: She are a doctor.
  • Correct: She is a doctor.
  • Incorrect: They was playing football.
  • Correct: They were playing football.


Learning the past tense of the verb ‘to be’ is a critical step in mastering English. It’s not just a standalone verb—it’s a vital element in various grammatical structures. From expressing a state of being to describing past scenarios, ‘was’ and ‘were’ play a fundamental role in our daily communication.

Keep practicing, and remember, the key to mastering these forms lies in regular usage and constant engagement with the language.

More resources below.

Congratulations, you have now gained a deeper understanding of the past tense of ‘be’. But don’t stop here! Our website has a wealth of resources to help you continue your journey through the English language.

Check out our other articles on past tenses in the resources listed below, which offer more insights and tips to improve your language skills.

We also have a full list of irregular verbs from A – Z on the site which you can access from the link here.

You can check other past tense words and our past tense resources by clicking on the links in the table below and in the resource list below that.

Table 2: Table of Links for irregular Past Tense Verbs

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We also have articles and worksheets which we will link examples of below, and if you need more you can try the search box.

I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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