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)
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.
More lessons on the Russian verbs
- The verb "to be" in Russian (#011)
- Russian verbs: Introduction - The Infinitive (#023)
- The Present tense of the Russian verbs (#024)
- Practice Russian Present Tense with questions (#028)
- The Past tense of Russian verbs (#039)
- Aspects of Russian verbs (#068)
- Perfective and imperfective verbs - Practice (#069)
- Use of the verb 'быть' in the Past tense (#073)
- Future tense with imperfective verbs (#095)
- Future tense with perfective verbs (#096)
- To go in Russian - Идти and ехать (#097)
- Past, Present, and Future of Russian verbs - Practice (#098)
- Imperative mood (Command form) of Russian verbs (#099)
- Commands for the 1st and 3d persons (#100)
- Reflexive verbs (#113)
- Russian verbs of motion (unprefixed) (#159)
- Prefixed verbs of motion (#160)
- Verbs of motion: practice (#161)
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