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Friday, January 7, 2022

Past Perfect Tense - Examples, Rules and Exercise


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The Meaning of Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect is a verb tense which is used to show that an action took place once or many times before another point in the past. 

The past perfect, also called the pluperfect, is a verb tense used to talk about actions that were completed before some point in the past.

The past perfect refers to a time earlier than before now. It is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past. It does not matter which event is mentioned first - the tense makes it clear which one happened first.


The past perfect tense is for talking about something that happened before something else. 


Past perfect is a type of verb form, generally treated as a grammatical tense in certain languages, relating to an action that occurred prior to an aforementioned time in the past. 


The Past Perfect tense is quite an easy tense to understand and to use. This tense talks about the "past in the past".


The past perfect tense describes a completed activity in the past. It is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another action took place.

Past Perfect Forms

The past perfect is formed using had + past participle. Questions are indicated by inverting the subject and had. Negatives are made with not.

  • Statement: You had studied English before you moved to New York.
  • Question: Had you studied English before you moved to New York?
  • Negative: You had not studied English before you moved to New York.

How do we make the Past Perfect tense?

The structure of the Past Perfect tense is:

subject+auxiliary have+main verb
conjugated in Past Simple
hadpast participle

The auxiliary verb (have) is conjugated in the Past Simple: had

The main verb is invariable in past participle form: -ed (or irregular)

For negative sentences we insert not between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the auxiliary verb.

Look at these example sentences with the Past Perfect tense:

subjectauxiliary verbmain verb
+Ihadfinishedmy work.
+Youhadstoppedbefore me.
Shehadnotgoneto school.

Contraction with Past Perfect

When we use the Past Perfect in speaking, we often contract the subject and the auxiliary verb. We also sometimes do this in informal writing:

I hadI’d
you hadyou’d
he had
she had
it had
we hadwe’d
they hadthey’d
  • I’d eaten already.
  • They’d gone home.

In negative sentences, we may contract the auxiliary verb and “not”:

  • I hadn’t finished my meal.
  • Anthony hadn’t had a day off for months.

The ‘d contraction is also used for the auxiliary verb would. For example, we’d can mean:

  • We hadOR
  • We would

But usually the main verb is in a different form, for example:

  • We had arrived (past participle)
  • We would arrive (base)

It is always clear from the context.

How do we use the Past Perfect tense?

The Past Perfect tense expresses action in the past before another action in the past. This is the past in the past. For example:

  • The train left at 9am. We arrived at 9:15am. When we arrived, the train had left.
The train had left when we arrived.
Train leaves in past at 9:00
We arrive in past at 9:15

Look at some more examples:

I wasn’t hungry. I had just eaten.

They were hungry. They had not eaten for five hours.

I didn’t know who he was. I had never seen him before.

“Mary wasn’t at home when I arrived.” / “Really? Where had she gone?”

You can sometimes think of the Past Perfect tense like the Present Perfect tense, but instead of the time being now the time is before.


For example, imagine that you arrive at the station at 9:15am. The stationmaster says to you:

  • “You are too late. The train has left.”

Later, you tell your friends:

  • “We were too late. The train had left.”

We often use the Past Perfect in reported speech after verbs like: said, told, asked, thought, wondered

Look at these examples:

He told us that the train had left.

I thought I had met her before, but I was wrong.

He explained that he had closed the window because of the rain.

I wondered if I had been there before.

I asked them why they had not finished.


Past Perfect Uses

USE 1 Completed Action Before Something in the Past

past perfect completed action

The past perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.


  • had never seen such a beautiful beach before I went to Kauai.
  • I did not have any money because I had lost my wallet.
  • Tony knew Istanbul so well because he had visited the city several times.
  • Had Susan ever studied Thai before she moved to Thailand?
  • She only understood the movie because she had read the book.
  • Kristine had never been to an opera before last night.
  • We were not able to get a hotel room because we had not booked in advance.
  • A: Had you ever visited the U.S. before your trip in 2006?
    B: Yes, I had been to the U.S. once before.

USE 2 Duration Before Something in the Past (Non-Continuous Verbs)

past perfect duration

With non-continuous verbs and some non-continuous uses of mixed verbs, we use the past perfect to show that something started in the past and continued up until another action in the past.


  • We had had that car for ten years before it broke down.
  • By the time Alex finished his studies, he had been in London for over eight years.
  • They felt bad about selling the house because they had owned it for more than forty years.

IMPORTANT Specific Times with the Past Perfect

past perfect with specific time

Unlike with the present perfect, it is possible to use specific time words or phrases with the past perfect. Although this is possible, it is usually not necessary.


  • She had visited her Japanese relatives once in 1993 before she moved in with them in 1996.


If the past perfect action did occur at a specific time, the simple past can be used instead of the past perfect when before or after is used in the sentence. The words before and after actually tell you what happens first, so the past perfect is optional. For this reason, both sentences below are correct.


  • She had visited her Japanese relatives once in 1993 before she moved in with them in 1996.
  • She visited her Japanese relatives once in 1993 before she moved in with them in 1996.


past perfect without specific time

If the past perfect is not referring to an action at a specific time, past perfect is not optional. Compare the examples below. Here past perfect is referring to a lack of experience rather than an action at a specific time. For this reason, simple past cannot be used.


  • She never saw a bear before she moved to Alaska. Not Correct
  • She had never seen a bear before she moved to Alaska. Correct


The examples below show the placement for grammar adverbs such as alwaysonlynevereverstilljust, etc.


  • You had previously studied English before you moved to New York.
  • Had you previously studied English before you moved to New York?



  • George had repaired many cars before he received his mechanic's license. Active
  • Many cars had been repaired by George before he received his mechanic's license. Passive



Watch the following Videos:






QUIZ - Past Perfect Tense 

You can do this grammar quiz. It tests what you learned on the Past Perfect page.

1. We ________ finished eating dinner.

 had not
 not had
 ‘d had not

2. Had they _____ to her before?


3. You _____ not left yet.

 would had

4. I had never _____ her before.


5. We arrived at 8:05, but the train _____ already left.


6. Sarah thought she ________ to that zoo before.

 has been
 had be
 had been

7. Nobody explained why the project had ________ on time.

 n’t been completed
 not completed
 n’t complete

8. He _____ us the item had been shipped.


9. Dad explained ________ his job due to stress.

 why he quitted
 that he had quit
 that he’d quite

10. Where _____ the security guard gone?