We use the Past Perfect to show that one event in the past happened before another event in the past. Thus, the Past Perfect is similar to the Present Perfect.
We use the Present Perfect to show that something has happened before the present moment of speaking. But there is no “present” in the Past Perfect. After all, the past is something that has already happened.
Therefore, we use the Past Perfect together with some other events that also happened in the past.
We often use the Past Simple to describe this “other event”. Such an event shows us the point in the past, up to which the event described in the Past Perfect occurred.
What is Past Perfect?
Let’s deal with this!
Take a look at an example:
I’ve already eaten.
In this example, we use the Present Perfect to say that this action happened before the moment of speaking.
Take a look at another example:
When Jessica arrived, I had already eaten.
In this example, we use two tenses. We use the Past Simple for “When Jessica arrived“. We use the Past Perfect for “I had already eaten“.
We cannnot just write the sentence “I had already eaten” without using some other part that points to a moment in the past. Otherwise, it will not be clear before what moment “I had already eaten” happened.
The Past Perfect is an interesting and rewarding time because using the Past Perfect we can place one event before other events in the past.
Imagine that we are telling a story that happened to us in the past:
I went to John’s house, Jessica was cooking, and John was sitting on the couch and watching TV …
In this story, we use the two past tenses, the Past Simple and the Past Continuous. Now imagine that we want to add to this story something that happened even before all these events.
This “something that happened before” we will describe using the Past Perfect. The Past Perfect is perfect for this! After all, the Past Perfect shows that something has happened before.
When my parents had already left, I went to John’s house, Jessica was cooking, and John was sitting on the couch and watching TV …
We use the Past Perfect for “When my parents had already left”, so we show that this event happened even before all other events in the past.
The Past Perfect expresses an action in the past that occurred before another action(s) in the past.
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: The tenses of the Perfect group show not what you do, did, or will do, but what you HAVE ALREADY DONE (Or will have done if it’s the future perfect). This something has already been done before some other action.
John came home. John took a bath. John went to bed.
In this sentence, we said that John did three things in the past.
After John has come home, he took a bath and went to bed.
In this sentence, we said that John did three things in the past. But the very first action was ALREADY DONE earlier than others.
REMEMBER: The Past Perfect can seem difficult. We use the Past Perfect quite often when we talk about the past, about what has already happened. But the good news is that it’s not hard to remember when to use the Past Perfect. There are not many of these cases. The Past Perfect has far fewer use cases than the Present Perfect.
How to form sentences
To form the Past Perfect, we need two main components without which it is impossible to form this tense.
- The verb to have. The verb to have shows us that the Subject “has” some action done.
For the Past Perfect, the verb to have has the past form had. And this is good news! Because in the past, we use had regardless of who is the subject.
- I had
- He had
- She had
- It had
- We had
- They had
- You had
See? We only use had 🙂
- To form the Past Perfect we use the third form of the main verb.
For regular verbs, the third form is the same as the past form (the second form). Thus, we form the third form of regular verbs by adding the -ed ending.
|base form||verb + ed|
- work – worked
- jump – jumped
- clean – cleaned
- talk – talked
Irregular verbs have their special third form. You should be familiar with the third form of irregular verbs or use tables of irregular verbs. Because there is no single rule to form them.
|base form||3d form|
- run – run
- write – written
- speak – spoken
- do – done
- have – had
Thus, we form a sentence in the Past Perfect using the Subject, the past form of the verb to have (had), and the third form of the main verb:
I had heard about this place before you told me about it.
How to form Affirmative (Positive) Sentences in Past Perfect
To form an affirmative (positive) sentence in the Past Perfect, we put the Subject first. After the subject, we put the past form of the verb to have had. Then the third form of the main verb. Then the rest of the sentence if needed.
Subject (I, we, John, people, dog) + had + The third form of the main verb (Read, Seen, Left, Spoken) + The rest of the sentence.
I looked at the place. I had never been here before.
He told us that he had read the report.
How to form Interrogative (Question) Sentences in Past Perfect
To form a question, we put the past form of the verb to have had first. Then we add the subject. Then the third form of the main verb. Then the rest of the sentence if needed.
Had + Subject (I, we, John, people, dog) + the third form of the main verb (Read, Seen, Left, Spoken) + The rest of the sentence.
Had you talked to him before you saw him?
Had you seen John around lately?
How to ask Wh-Questions
In English, there are General (Yes/No) Questions that we ask to find out the answer yes or no.
Question: Had he been there before he arrived?
Answer: Yes he had.
Also in English, there are Special or Wh-Questions that we ask to get more information.
Special or Wh-Questions are different from General or Yes/No Questions in one simple detail. Wh-Questions contain additional words or phrases to help us find out more information.
Question: When had he been there before he arrived?
To ask a Wh-Question in the Past Perfect, we use the same template as for General (Yes/No) Questions, but at the very beginning, we put an additional, question word or phrase.
Question word or phrase + had + Subject (I, we, John, people, dog) + The third form of the main verb (Read, Seen, Left, Spoken) + The rest of the sentence.
Why had you hidden this?
How long had you hidden this?
How to answer questions
To form Short Positive or Negative answers we use Yes or No, Subject and had or had not.
Yes / No + Subject + had / had not
Question: Had you seen him before the trial?
Answer: Yes I had.
Answer: No I had not.
Remember, in short answers, had implies (means) the main verb from the question:
Question: Had you seen him before the trial?
Answer: Yes I had.
Had in this example means “seen“. Therefore, in this sentence, the answer means “Yes I had seen“. We just use had instead of seen.
To form a full positive or negative answer, we put at the beginning of the answer “Yes” if the answer is positive or “No” if the answer is negative. Then we put the subject. Then had or had not. Then we repeat the sentence from the question in the affirmative (positive):
Yes / No + Subject + had / had not + positive or negative rest of the question
Question: Had you seen him before the trial?
Answer: Yes I had seen him (before the trial).
Answer: No I had not seen him (before the trial).
How to form Negative Sentences in Past Perfect
To form a negative sentence, we put the Subject first. After the subject, we put the past form of the verb to have in negative form – had not. Then the third form of the main verb. Then the rest of the sentence if needed.
Subject (I, we, John, people, dog) + had not + the third form of the main verb (Read, Seen, Left, Spoken) + The rest of the sentence.
I told them that we had not done a single experiment.
I was sorry for I had not noticed her.
What is the sort form of had and had not?
We contract the subject and the verb had in an affirmative (positive) sentence like this:
- I had – I’d
- He had – He’d
- She had – She’d
- It had – It’d
- We had – We’d
- They had – They’d
- You had – You’d
They‘d made that choice voluntarily.
We shorten the subject, the verb had, and the negative not in a negative sentence like this:
|I had not||I hadn’t|
|He had not||He hadn’t|
|She had not||She hadn’t|
|It had not||It hadn’t|
|We had not||We hadn’t|
|They had not||They hadn’t|
|You had not||You hadn’t|
- I had not – I hadn’t
- He had not – He hadn’t
- She had not – She hadn’t
- It had not – It hadn’t
- We had not – We hadn’t
- They had not – They hadn’t
- You had not – You hadn’t
You hadn’t taken a single day off.
When we should use Past Perfect?
Let’s take a look at the cases when we use the Past Perfect:
- We use the Past Perfect when we talk about an event in the past that happened before other events or moments in the past.
We often specify such events or actions using the Past Simple.
It was 25 years ago when I had not written any books yet …
- We use the Past Perfect when we say that some action has already ended at some exact moment in the past.
We indicate this moment using the words “by” + the exact time (Three days ago, July 22, 1985, etc.).
We had finished the science experiment by Tuesday morning.
- We use the Past Perfect to show how long an action lasted until a certain moment in the past.
We express such actions using Stative verbs such as be, have, know, etc.
That day I asked her out the first time, although I had known her all my life.
- We use the Past Perfect to share our experiences.
We use the Past Perfect to tell about something that we did or didn’t do, where we were or were not, what we know or don’t know.
In this case, we use the Past Perfect just like we use the Present Perfect when talking about our experience in the present. The only difference is we use the Past Perfect to talk about the experiences that we had before some point in the past.
When I arrived in London I had already finished my English studies.
- We use the Past Perfect when we talk about the reason for an event.
The reason is usually some kind of action or event that happened earlier. Therefore, we use the Past Perfect to express the reason. For the main part, we use the Past Simple.
Three people were injured because the roof had collapsed.
In such sentences, we can use additional words (because and as) to show the relationship between cause and reason.
- We use the Past Perfect to express that there is the result in the past of some other action or event that happened earlier.
John told me that he had finished the book.
- We use the Past Perfect in the indirect speech to express the Present Perfect and Past Simple.
He said he had finished his first year at the university (He said: “I finished my first year at the university”)
She said she had received a scholarship (She said: “I have received a scholarship”)
We use the Past Perfect instead of the Past Perfect Continuous with Stative verbs.
In English, there is a group of verbs that we most often use without the -ing ending. Typically, these verbs express feelings, sensations, or thought processes:
Because loving or remembering sound ridiculous.
Therefore we use Stative verbs in the Past Perfect instead of the Past Perfect Continuous.
Susan had remembered the name of the street she parked in.
I had believed that what I saw was not all of reality.
Hardly … when and No sooner … than
I want to tell you about another very useful expression. Expression with the words Hardly … when and No sooner … than.
We use these expressions when we want to show that the first action happened before the second action.
At the same time, we want to emphasize that the second action began immediately (sometimes surprisingly) after the first action ended. This nuance in such phrases is important.
Imagine a situation where your favorite football team scores. And the players of this team rejoice at the goal. But suddenly, after a few seconds, the second team scores their goal.
To tell this story and emphasize that the second goal was scored too quickly (it was surprising for everyone) before the first team even had time to celebrate their goal, you can use the Past Perfect and Hardly … when and No sooner … than
Hardly had my team scored the goal when the second team scored their goal too.
Note that in the first part of the sentence where we used the Past Perfect, we used an unusual word order:
Hardly had my team scored the goal…
This is the word order we usually use in an interrogative (question) sentence.
But our sentence is not a question. In fact, this is not a mistake. This word order is called inversion. Inversion is when the word order looks like an interrogative (question) sentence, although the sentence is affirmative (positive).
In the constructions Hardly … when and No sooner … than we use inversion in the part of the sentence in which we use the Past Perfect. We use the Past Simple in the second part of the sentence.
Hardly had we left the house when there was an accident.
No sooner had I entered his house than I noticed the unmistakable scent.
We use the Past Perfect in The Third Conditional.
The Third Conditional are sentences in which we express regret about what has already happened and what can no longer be changed.
We use the Past Perfect in the part of the sentence in which we describe the condition. This is the part of the sentence that contains the word if.
She would have fallen into the pond if he had not caught her by the arm.
I wish + Past Perfect
I wish + the Past Perfect is another very interesting and very useful structure.
Using this structure we express regret for something we have done or not done in the past.
I wish I had gone with you for good.
Look at the formation of this construction:
I wish + the Past Perfect
I wish I had studied it.
I wish I had not eaten it before the game.
We use the Past Perfect in Indirect speech.
In indirect speech, there is such a thing as Sequence of tenses. When we retell the words that someone said in the Present Perfect, we turn them into the Past Perfect.
IMPORTANT: In modern informal English we can use the Past Simple and the Present Perfect instead of the Past Perfect in this case.
Difference between Past Perfect vs Past Simple
Many English learners often confuse the Past Simple and the Past Perfect.
We use both the Past Simple and the Past Perfect to talk about events in the past. We often use the Past Simple and the Past Perfect together. But each of these tenses serves its purpose, so you must understand the difference between the Past Perfect and the Past Simple.
We use the Past Simple when we want to tell about actions or events that happened in the past one after another.
I left the house, got in the car, and drove to work.
In this example, the actions take place one after the other. In this example, no action happened first. Therefore, we use the Past Simple.
We use the Past Perfect when we show that one event or action happened before another. We use the Past Perfect to express the event that happened before.
When Jessica had already left, I left the house, got in the car, and drove to work.
In this example, the action “Jessica had already left” happened before “I left the house, got in the car and drove to work“. So we use the Present Perfect for “Jessica had already left“. We use the Past Simple for the rest of the actions because they happened one after the other “I left the house, got in the car, and drove to work“.
Can we replace Past Perfect with Past Simple?
In modern English, we often simplify some complex grammatical structures. Therefore, if the sentence does not explicitly need to show that one action or event happened before another, or if this is already clear from the context, then we can use the Past Simple only.
We can use the Past Simple instead of the Past Perfect in spoken English and informal writing. Especially when two the Past Simple sentences are connected with words that show that one event happened earlier: before, after, as soon as, first, earlier, etc.
As soon as we did the job, I got in the car and drove to work.
After I finished my coursework we set an agreement for the meeting.
Difference between Past Perfect vs Present Perfect
Now let’s take a look at the Past Perfect and the Present Perfect. The Past Perfect and the Present Perfect are similar in their functions, which is why English learners often confuse the two tenses.
We use both the Past Perfect and the Present Perfect to say that one event or action happened before another event or action.
The Past Perfect and the Present Perfect differ in that:
We use the Present Perfect to describe an action or event that has been completed by the PRESENT moment. By the time of speaking. Therefore, the result is not related to the past, but the present.
Where is my purse? I have looked everywhere…
We use the Past Perfect to show that some action has ended up to a certain point IN THE PAST. And the result of what happened refers to the past. It has nothing to do with the present.
I didn’t know where my purse was. I had looked everywhere …
Markers of Past Perfect
In the Past Perfect, we often use words and phrases that indicate at what point in time an action was completed in the past:
- never before
- before the day
- before the year
- before the moment
- before the evening
- no sooner… than
- hardly… when
- by that month
- by that year
- by that age
- by afternoon
- by the 2nd of July
- by that day
- by two o’clock
- by half-past six
- by that time
- by that morning
- by evening
Examples of Past Perfect
Take a look at examples of the Past Perfect. This will help you remember this lesson.
By that time people had known how to log and process timber.
She said it the day before her dog had disappeared.
It seemed that her family had moved to Hokkaido.
He added that Yemen had made remarkable progress.
Merry presented him with a picture that he had drawn himself.
The victims had received suitable compensation.
I thought he had moved or something.
It was a map Tom had drawn.
I had seen enough, and I rescued her.
People who had felt oppressed now felt empowered.