HABITUAL past simple

Habitual states or actions are those that are done or experienced regularly (sometimes without conscious thought). They can be physical, mental, or emotional.  Some times the language can make it obvious that they are habitual, other times there is little indication, and much more discourse is required.

Examples of habitual states:

  • Being anxious

I always thought that I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person

 because I was depressed and anxious.

TED

  • Feeling tired

She no longer felt tired all the time.

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Examples of habitual actions:

  • Drinking coffee every day

My great aunt shut her eyes, drank coffee and pointed at God.

(there is no indication in this sentence that this was a thing she regularly did, but if you listen to the context it clearly is habitual)

listen to more context

  • Biting your nails

My colleagues and I held our breath and bit our fingernails,

and then finally we saw the first proton collisions

 at this highest energy ever.

(Even though “bit our nails” is a bad habit and is in the past tense, the sentence does not idicate, nor does further context, that it was a habitual action in the past. We know they are talking about one moment: “the first proton collisions“)


We know that the Past Simple tense is used to express actions or states that occurred in the past and may no longer happen in the present. It can be used to talk about habitual states or actions—things that were always true (however negation or other frequency still can refer to repeated or continual states and actions ) or happened regularly in the past.

For example, consider the sentence: “When I was a child, I walked to school every day.” In this case, “walked” is in the Past Simple tense. It indicates a habitual action—walking to school—that was done regularly in the past but is clearly not happening in the present.

*Note, expressing “habitual states or actions” with past simple is usually taught along side the structures: B2would’ and B1used to‘.


In the English Grammar Profile, B1 point 25 in the category of PAST simple  is defined as:

habitual states or actions.

PELIC STUDENT EXAMPLE:

They always went back late.

Chinese male, level 3, writing class.

EXPERT EXAMPLES:

He would take me with him on his jobs and say,

” Come on Jo, let’s go do something to make this world a better place.” 

His hands were wide and calloused, 

and they always reminded me of displaced tree roots.

TED

In the third grade,

 I tested out of public school into a fancy private school 

where the only Black person I saw every day 

was the one who looked back at me in the mirror.

TED

So there was a lot of meaning in my life

 because I was performing this type of research during the day,

 but then in the evenings and on the weekends, 

I traveled as an advocate for NAMI, 

the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

TED


Both examples in the EGP follow the pattern ‘always + past simple verb‘.  For that matter, most adverbs of frequency are possible with the Past Simple and still refer to regular actions and states. Looking at most examples given of the ‘habitual-past’ with past simple we also notice mostly pronoun subjects and ‘every + time noun’. Other, words and phrases also indicate habitual past such as: ‘no longer’, ‘all the time’, ‘evenings’, for example.   Furthermore, although the following example is a repeated event in the past, the term “habit” seems a poor choice:

Beginning in 2002, 

thousands of Gacaca courts convened every week.

TED

ALWAYS + past simple

Notice that when we look at the results of an iWeb search for:

always _VVD * * *

we notice that the type of verb is not most commonly an ‘action‘ verb.

1 ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WOULD BE 680

I don’t know, I guess 

I just always thought it would feel a little different.

Playing it Cool

2 ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS A 656
3 ALWAYS KNEW I WANTED TO 582
4 ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A 554
5 ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS THE 256
6 ALWAYS FELT LIKE I WAS 255
7 ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE A 253
8 ALWAYS STRUCK ME AS A 235
9 ALWAYS KNEW THAT I WANTED 233
10 ALWAYS LIKED THE IDEA OF 231
11 ALWAYS THOUGHT HE WAS A 190
12 ALWAYS SEEMED TO HAVE A 189
13 ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS JUST 186
14 ALWAYS TOOK THE TIME TO 185
15 ALWAYS LOVED THE IDEA OF 172
16 ALWAYS KNEW SHE WANTED TO 162
17 ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE THE 161
18 ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE IN 156
19 ALWAYS SEEMED TO ME THAT 156
20 ALWAYS WANTED TO BE AN 145
21 ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT IT WAS 143
22 ALWAYS MADE ME FEEL LIKE 141
23 ALWAYS KNEW HE WANTED TO 140
24 ALWAYS FOUND IT TO BE 133
25 ALWAYS TOLD ME , ” 133
26 ALWAYS WANTED IT TO BE 133
27 ALWAYS WONDERED WHAT IT WOULD 131

I always wondered what it would be like to be on one of them.

listen

28 ALWAYS THOUGHT OF IT AS 129
29 ALWAYS MADE IT A POINT 124
30 ALWAYS GOT THE IMPRESSION THAT 115
31 ALWAYS WONDERED WHAT HAPPENED TO 115
32 ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT WAS A 114
33 ALWAYS FELT THAT I WAS 112
34 ALWAYS FELT THAT IT WAS 108
35 ALWAYS FOUND THEM TO BE 108
36 ALWAYS THOUGHT I WAS A 108
37 ALWAYS KNEW IT WOULD BE 106
38 ALWAYS CAME BACK TO THE 105
39 ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO 103
40 ALWAYS WENT ABOVE AND BEYOND 101
41 ALWAYS KNEW IT WAS GOING 97
42 ALWAYS THOUGHT THERE WAS SOMETHING 97
43 ALWAYS TOLD ME THAT I 96
44 ALWAYS WANTED.  95
45 ALWAYS WANTED TO HAVE A 94
46 ALWAYS WENT THE EXTRA MILE 93 (UNLISTED IDIOM)

They always went the extra mile to ensure I was happy.

love-and-co.com

47 ALWAYS KNEW I WAS GOING 91
48 ALWAYS KNEW THERE WAS A 88
49 ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS BECAUSE 88


For results 50-100 we had AI provide a logical grouping of the corpus results:

Thoughts and Beliefs:

  • “I always thought I would be a doctor, but I ended up becoming a teacher.”
  • “He always thought it was weird that his cat liked to play in the water.”
  • “She always thought this was a safe neighborhood until the recent incidents.”
  • “I always thought I was the only one who liked pineapple on pizza.”
  • “They always thought it was an easy task until they tried doing it themselves.”
  • “You always thought you had to finish your plate, even if you were full.”
  • “We always assumed it was a simple misunderstanding, not a deliberate lie.”
  • “I always thought of myself as an introvert, but lately, I’ve been enjoying social events more.”
  • “She always thought they were a great team, capable of handling any challenge.”
  • “He always thought it was my responsibility to keep the room clean.”
  • “We always thought there was a secret passage in the old house.”
  • “She always knew what was going to happen in the movie because she read the book first.”
  • “I always thought it was so fascinating how stars twinkle in the night sky.”

Feelings and Emotions:

  • “I always felt the need to help others, which is why I became a nurse.”
  • “She always felt that there was something missing in her life until she discovered her passion for music.”
  • “Even though he was wealthy, he always felt like he had nothing because he was not happy.”
  • “He always felt it was a mistake to trust her so easily.”
  • “I always felt that I had a responsibility to take care of my younger siblings.”
  • “Despite the evidence, she always felt like it was not the whole truth.”

Desires and Wishes:

  • “I always wanted one of these cars, ever since I saw it in a movie.”
  • “She always wanted to do something meaningful with her life, which led her to start a charity.”
  • “My parents always wanted me to be a doctor, but I chose to be an artist.”
  • “He always said he wanted to travel the world, and he finally did it after retirement.”
  • “I always wanted to make a difference in the world, so I became a teacher.”

Observations and Speculations:

  • “It always seemed to me to be a place full of mystery and adventure.”
  • “I always wondered if it was possible to travel to another galaxy.”
  • “She always seemed to have the perfect response for every situation.”
  • “He always wondered if there was life on other planets.”
  • “My dog always seemed to be on high alert whenever the doorbell rang.”
  • “The kindness of strangers always stood out to me during my travels.”

Personal Perceptions and Self-Awareness:

  • ALWAYS KNEW THERE WAS SOMETHING 86
  • ALWAYS LOVED THE LOOK OF 86
  • ALWAYS LIKED THE LOOK OF 75
  • ALWAYS KNEW THAT I WAS 68
  • ALWAYS KNEW THAT I WOULD 67
  • ALWAYS FOUND IT HARD TO 65

Communication and Interaction:

  • ALWAYS TOLD ME I WAS 78
  • ALWAYS TOLD ME THAT IF 76
  • ALWAYS SAID TO ME , 72
  • ALWAYS SAID THAT I WOULD 59

Miscellaneous:

  • ALWAYS MADE ME LAUGH.56

A2:
bit, came back, extra, happened, idea, if, just, laugh, myself, point, so, stood

B1:

look out, mile, reminded, seemed, struck, wondered


Negative:

_VDD _XX always _VV

1 DIDN’T ALWAYS WORK 408
2 DIDN’T ALWAYS GET 319
3 DIDN’T ALWAYS KNOW 204
4 DID NOT ALWAYS WORK 185
5 DIDN’T ALWAYS AGREE 184

I just want to say,

 I didn’t always agree with you

but you had my respect.

Geronimo

6 DIDN’T ALWAYS FEEL 156
7 DIDN’T ALWAYS MAKE 135
8 DIDN’T ALWAYS LOOK 135
9 DID NOT ALWAYS AGREE 131
10 DIDN’T ALWAYS GO 122


NEVER + Past simple

The other most common frequency adverb found before past simple verbs is ‘never’.

1 NEVER KNEW 41543
2 NEVER THOUGHT 40982
3 NEVER SAW 35928
4 NEVER GOT 21741
5 NEVER SAID 19952
6 NEVER HAPPENED 19353
7 NEVER CAME 19297
8 NEVER FELT 17555
9 NEVER WENT 17224
10 NEVER MADE 16106

We asked AI to write examples using them:

  1. NEVER KNEW: “I never knew the answer to the math problems, so I always asked my teacher for help.”
  2. NEVER THOUGHT: “I never thought I would enjoy painting, but I took a class and found out I loved it.”
  3. NEVER SAW: “Growing up in a city, I never saw a real cow until I visited my cousin’s farm.”
  4. NEVER GOT: “I never got a perfect score on my spelling tests in elementary school.”
  5. NEVER SAID: “Even though I was often late, I never said I didn’t care about punctuality.”
  6. NEVER HAPPENED: “I used to worry about forgetting my lines in the school play, but it never happened.”
  7. NEVER CAME: “My friend promised to visit me every summer, but he never came.”
  8. NEVER FELT: “Despite the long hours, I never felt tired after doing community service.”
  9. NEVER WENT: “I lived near the beach, but I never went swimming there.”
  10. NEVER MADE: “I tried many times, but I never made a successful soufflé.”

There are many other ways to express habitual past.  For example:

One of my fondest memories as a child 

was to stare in the evenings 

at the beautiful orange skies 

and flaring chimneys of the steel plant.

TED

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