Past Perfect

Breaking Down the Past Perfect Tense

The Past perfect tense expresses action that was completed before another past action or time in the past. This usually tells two past actions. The verb (had) in the past perfect shows the first past action. Though the phrase order may be changed but the meaning doesn’t change.

See Practical Examples:
  • The kids had already gone to bed by the time I got home.
  • By the time Andy woke up, Laurel had eaten breakfast.
  • The thief simply walked in. Someone had forgotten to lock the door.

How to Use the Past Perfect Tense

1.  Expression of Affirmative Statements with Past Perfect Tense: To make affirmative statement with past perfect tense, the structure: subject + had + past participle of verb is used:

Examples include:
  • Andy loved Memphis because he had grown up there.
  • When I got home my wife had prepared dinner.
  • Laurel’s parents had earned financial freedom by the time they retired.

2.  Expression of Negative Statements with Past Perfect Tense: To make negative statement with past perfect tense, the structure: subject + had not + past participle of verb is used:

Examples include:
  • Andy loved Memphis because he had not grown up there.
  • When I got home my wife hadn’t prepared dinner.
  • Laurel’s parents had not earned financial freedom by the time they retired.

3.  Expression of Interrogative Statements with Past Perfect Tense: To make interrogative statement with past perfect tense, the structure: (interrogative word) + had + subject + past participle of verb is used:

Examples include:
  • Had Andy ever fell in love before he dated Laurel?
  • Had Laurel’s parents earned financial freedom when they retired?
  • Why had you waited this long before sending him the mail?

4.  Expression of Negative Interrogative Statements with Past Perfect Tense: To make negative interrogative statement with past perfect tense, the structure: (interrogative word) + had not + subject + past participle of verb is used:

Examples include:
  • Hadn’t Andy fell in love before he dated Laurel?
  • Hadn’t Laurel’s parents earned financial freedom when they retired?
  • Why hadn’t you waited a little longer before sending him the mail?

Note that the Interrogatives are rarely used in formal contexts. Chances are you will seldom have needs to use interrogatives.

Important! 

Note that if either before or after is used in the sentence, the past perfect is not necessary because the time relationship is already clear.

Meanwhile, the simple past may be used instead of the past perfect.

Examples include:

Past Perfect

  • He had arrived before we got here.
  • After the movie had finished, I went to bed.

Simple Past

  • He arrived before we got here.
  • After the movie finished, I went to bed.

In most cases, we almost don’t necessarily need to use past perfect; simple past is usually appropriate.

    The Four Aspects of Past Tense
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