What Is the Past Perfect Tense?
The past perfect tense (also known as 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 past perfect is formed by using the past tense of the verb 'to have' (had), followed by the past participle of the main verb. The past participle is regularly formed with an -ed suffix to regular verbs (e.g. looked, ended, tutored) but there are also many irregular forms (e.g. broken, made, understood).
|past tense of have
Past Perfect: Negation
For negative sentences, you put 'not' after the auxiliary verb 'had.' These are the examples:
We had left. → We had
In negative sentences, we can contract the auxiliary verb and 'not.' See the example:
Past Perfect: Questions
For yes/no questions sentences, we invert the subject and 'had.' Look at these examples with the past perfect tense:
For wh- question, do the same thing as in yes/no questions and add the proper wh- question word at the beginning of the sentence, omitting the part that is the answer. Take a look at the examples:
She had gone
Here 'to Paris' is the answer that is omitted in the question.
They had left
If you want to learn more about spelling rules for adding -ed to the base form of verbs, see here.
Past Perfect: Uses
When someone uses the past perfect tense, they are talking about:
- Actions that happened before another action in the past
- Actions that happened before a specific time in the past
- States that started in the past, and continued up to some time in the past
Actions That Happened Before Another Action in the Past
We use the 'past perfect tense' to talk about the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action. So, if there are two actions following each other, use the simple past for the action closest to the present, and use the past perfect for the action that came before it.
When the police arrived, the thief
It doesn't matter in which order we say the two events. 'The thief had escaped when the police arrived' has the same meaning.
Actions That Happened Before a Specific Time in the Past
We use the 'past perfect tense' to talk about something that started in the past and continued up to another action or time in the past. Just remember, when the sequences of the actions are obvious do not use the 'past perfect tense.' Here are the examples for more clarification.
When he graduated, he
He arrived in London six years before he graduated and lived there until he graduated, or even longer.
States That Started in the Past, and Continued up to Some Time in the Past
This usage is specific to stative verbs, not actions. We use past perfect with verbs such as 'like', 'think', 'love', 'hate', 'believe', etc., to refer to a state that started in the past and continued up to some time in the past. Take a look at some examples:
Common Time Expressions
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. Check out these examples:
They left before I
Unfortunately, the man died before he
We can use 'Just' with the past perfect to refer to an event that happened only a short time before now. For example:
Note that if there's only a single event and no adverb indicating a time up to a point in the past, we do not use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago. For instance:
Early humans had lived in caves.")
We often use the past perfect in reported speech after verbs like: said, told, asked, thought, wondered.
These are some examples with the past perfect tense:
He told us that the train
He explained that he
Common Time Expressions
We often use the adverbs already, still, ever or never with the past perfect. Here are the examples:
I called his office but he
Already means 'before the specified time', so the sentence means 'before he called the office, we had left).
Still means 'continuing until a particular point in time and not finishing'.
She was the most beautiful girl I
Ever means 'at any time before the specified time'.
Never means 'at no time before the specified time'.
The Third Conditional
We use the 'past perfect tense' to talk about unreal or imaginary situations in the past. In this case, it is important to know that the situation we are talking about is not real and it is totally hypothetical.
Have a look at the examples:
She would have passed the exam if she
You can use the 'past perfect tense' before the words such as 'hope', 'expect', 'want', 'plan', 'think about', and 'wish' to indicate an intention that was not fulfilled. It means that you could not achieve the goal and now you cannot change it and sometimes you regret it.
Sometimes you use the 'past perfect tense' after a clause with the verb 'wish' to indicate that you regret doing or not doing something. Check out the examples for more clarification.
She wishes she
Structure, Contraction, Affirmative, Negative, and Question Forms
Here, there is a table for all the general rules of this lesson. Have a look at it!
|subject + had + past participle
His sister had
We use the past perfect tense to talk about:
- An action happening before another action
- A finished action before a second point in the past
- In reported speech
- In the third conditionals