Past Perfect Tense in English Grammar

Past Perfect Tense in English Grammar

This tense is an advance tense and we use it to talk about the past in a lot of interesting ways, and you’ll see what they are. So are you ready? Let’s start.

Past Perfect Tense in English Grammar

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense (also called the pluperfect) is for talking about something that happened before something else. It is used to make it clear that one action happened before another action in the past.

Past Perfect: Structure

The present perfect is composed of the the past tense of the verb to have (had), plus the past participle of the main verb. The past participle is regularly formed with an -ed suffix (e.g. looked, ended, tutored) but has many irregular forms (e.g. broken, made, understood).

Subject past tense of have past participle
All subjects had worked

When we use the past perfect tense in speaking, we often contract the subject and auxiliary verb.

My new job wasn't exactly what I had expected . → My new job wasn't exactly what I’d expected .

When we arrived , she had left . → When we arrived , she'd left .

Past Perfect: Negation

For negative sentences you put 'not' between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

He had published his first poem by the time he was 27 . → He had not published his first poem by the time he was 27 .

We had left . → We had not left .

In negative sentences, we can contract the auxiliary verb and 'not'. See the examples:

We had not left . → We hadn't left .

Past Perfect: Questions

For yes/no question sentences, we exchange the subject and 'had'. Look at these example sentences with the past perfect tense:

They had arrived . → Had they arrived ?

She had eaten dinner . → Had she eaten dinner ?

For wh- question sentences, do the exact thing you do for yes/no questions and add the proper wh- question word at the beginning of the sentence and omit the part that is the answer.

She had gone to Paris . → Where had she gone ?

They had left in June . → When had they left ?

Past Participle: Spelling Rules

The past participle of verbs is usually formed by adding -ed or -d to the verb’s root. But keep in mind that English have quite a few verbs that have irregular past participles (e.g., done, said, gone, known, won, thought, felt, eaten). Here are the spelling rules for the formation of the past participle of regular verbs:

  • If the verb ends in a vowel + 'y' add 'ed'.

play → played

employ → employed

  • If the verb ends in a consonant + 'y', 'y' it changes to '-i' before 'ed'.

study → studied

hurry → hurried

  • If the verb ends in a vowel 'e' add 'd' after it.

live → lived

dance → danced

  • If a monosyllabic verb ends in consonant + vowel + consonant, double the final consonant before 'ed'.

stop → stopped

plan → planned

  • If the verb has more than one syllable, double the final consonant before 'ed' only if the final syllable is stressed.

permit → permitted

prefer → preferred

  • If the final syllable of the verb is not stressed, do not double the final consonant before 'ed'.

listen → listened

develop → developed

Past Perfect: Uses

When someone uses the present perfect tense, they are talking about:

an Action Happening before Another Action

  • We use the past perfect to talk about the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action.

When the police arrived , the thief had escaped .

It doesn't matter in which order we say the two events. 'The thief had escaped when the police arrived' has the same meaning.

I had fed the cat before I ate my dinner .

Past Perfect + Before

We can also use the past perfect + before to show that an action was not done or was incomplete when the past simple action happened.

They left before I'd spoken to them .

Unfortunately , the man died before he'd seen his daughter's wedding day .

A finished Action before a Second Point in the Past

  • We use the past perfect to talk about something that started in the past and continued up to another action or time in the past.

When he graduated , he had been in London for six years .

He arrived in London six years before he graduated and lived there until he graduated, or even longer.

On the 3rd of November , I'd worked here for five months .

Past Perfect + Just

We can use 'Just' with the past perfect to refer to an event that was only a short time earlier than before now.

The train had just left when I arrived at the station .


Note that if there's only a single event and no adverb that indicates a time up to a point in the past, we don't use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago.

Early humans lived in caves . (NOT Early humans had lived in caves . )

Reported Speech

We often use the past perfect in reported speech after verbs like: said, told, asked, thought, wondered.

He told us that the train had left .

He explained that he had closed the window because it was chilly .

Already, Still ,Ever, Never

We often use the adverbs already, still, ever or never with the past perfect.

I called his office but he'd already left .

Already means 'before the specified time', so the sentence means 'before he called the office, we had left).

It still hadn't snowed at the beginning of December .

Still means 'continuing until a particular point in time and not finishing'.

She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever met .

Ever means 'at any time before the specified time'.

I'd never met anyone from Iran before I met Sarah .

Never means 'at no time before the specified time'.

the Third Conditional

  • We use the past perfect to talk about unreal or imaginary things in the past.

If I had known you were under the weather , I would have visited you .

She would have passed the exam if she had studied harder .

  • We use the past perfect to talk about unreal things in the past after 'wish'.

I wish I had studied harder !

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