099 – Use of the verb ‘быть’ in the Past tense

In Russian, as in English, the verb “to be” (быть) is one of the main construction blocks in a sentence. We have alreadly learned how to use the verb “to be” in the Present tense. In this lesson we’ll take a closer look at its use in the Past tense.

To start with, let’s learn the conjugation of the verb быть in the Past tense:

я, ты, он был (masculine)
я, ты, она была́ (feminine)
оно бы́ло (neuter and impersonal)
они бы́ли (plural)

Examples (примеры):

Когда́ э́то бы́ло?
When was it?

Э́то бы́ло вчера́.
It was yesterday.

Э́то бы́ло здо́рово!
It was great!

Где ты был?
Where were you?

Кни́га бы́ла интере́сной.
The book was interesting.

Вчера́ мы бы́ли в теа́тре.
Yesterday we were in the theater.

How to say ‘I had’, ‘you had’ etc.

Do you remember how to say ‘I have’ in Russian? The same pattern is used if you want to say ‘I had’. Have a look at the examples and you’ll get the idea:

У меня́ была́ температу́ра вчера́.
I had fever yesterday.

У него́ бы́ли пробле́мы, но сейча́с всё хорошо́.
He had problems, but now everything is ok.

Температу́ра is feminine, so you we use the feminine form of the verb быть. Пробле́мы is a plural noun, so we use были.

In the negative sentences we always use было regardless of the gender of the subject. Remember that the subject in this case is always in the Genitive case (highlighted).

У нас не́ было де́нег.
We had no money.

У них не́ было докуме́нтов.
They had no documents.

У него не́ было вы́хода.
He had no way out.

У меня никогда не́ было велосипе́да.
I have never had a bike.

Notice that in the sentences like above, Russians emphazise the particle не and make no stress on the verb было.

Practice the examples of today’s lesson with the audio track.

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2 comments on “099 – Use of the verb ‘быть’ in the Past tense”

  1. Philip says:

    Спасибо вам большое за этот урок. Это очень полезно для меня.

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Пожалуйста, Philip.

      Мы рады, что сайт приносит пользу.

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