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My neighbour invited me for snacks the other day, and she has this really annoying daughter who never gets when a joke is over. I was telling her how I fell down the stairs a few days back, and the girl heard bits and pieces of my story. Somehow she ignored the part where I said my back hurts after the fall and found it very amusing that I actually fell. She kept asking me every five minutes, “Did you fell? I didn’t heard only!”

I swear to you the first time she said that I scalded my tongue on the hot coffee. The insensitivity I could ignore, but such a glaring error in her language?

What was wrong? The fact that she used two past tense – verbs in her sentences! Let me explain. Now, in the sentence “Did you fell down?” the verb form is “fell”. However, the word “did” is an auxiliary verb. In language, an auxiliary verb is one that gives further semantic or syntactic information about a main or full verb, which in this case, is “fell”. The rule in grammar that my neighbour’s adult daughter probably did not know here, is that when you are using the auxiliary verb “did”, the main verb following it is always in its base form (The simplest form of a verb, without a special ending; it is the form listed in the dictionary. English verbs have five basic forms: the base form, the – S form, the – ing form, the past form, and the past participle form.)

That said, the structure for positive sentences in the simple past tense is:

subject + main verb (past)
I   +         fell
She +         heard

The structure for negative sentences in the simple past tense is:

subject + auxiliary verb (did) + not + main verb (base form)
I     +             did              + not +         fall
She +             did               + not +         hear

The structure for question sentences in the simple past tense is:

auxiliary verb (did) + subject + main verb (base form)?
Did             +      you   +          fall?
Did             +      you   +           hear?

On the other hand, if she had said “Had you fallen? I hadn’t heard” she would be right. Why? Because she would then be using the Past Perfect Tense. The past perfect tense describes an event that happened in the past before another event was completed in the past. It is formed using the past tense of the verb “to have” (had) and the past participle of the verb (heard – which is a regular verb, eaten, taken, given – which are irregular verbs).

No, I didn’t really correct her. She wasn’t the sort of girl to take constructive criticism.