The past perfect tense is formed with the past tense of the auxiliary verb have, which is had and the past participle of a main verb (e.g. eaten, stolen, taken). The past perfect tense in a sentence or conversation describes an event that happened in the past before another event in the simple past tense was completed in the past.

The Past Perfect Tense is used:

1. for an action which took place and completed in the past.

Examples:

  • He had hurt his back in an accident at his workplace.
  • Bob had borrowed money from the bank.
  • We were glad that the train had arrived.

 

2. for an action which happened before a definite time in the past.

Examples:

  • They had said their prayers by ten o'clock.
  • We had cleaned up the whole place in one hour after the dinner party ended.

 

3. to show an action happened in the past before another action took place.
The event in the past perfect tense occurred before the event in the simple past tense. The words usually used here are when and after.
 

Examples:

  • They had already finished their dinner when I arrived to join them.
  • When he had done his homework, he went for a smoke in the park.
  • Afterhad eaten five apples, I felt ill.
  • We arrived at the cinema after the film had started.

 

4. for states.

Examples:

  • They had become good friends for many years after meeting on holiday.
  • She had been very angry for the past several days. 

 

Two actions completed in the past
When two actions were completed in the past, a past perfect tense is used to clarify which event happened earlier.

 

Examples:

  • The museum occupied the building where the art gallery was.
    (The use of two simple past tenses [occupied, was] implies the museum and the art gallery occupied the same building at the same time.)
  • The museum occuped the building where the art gallery had been.
    (The use of the past perfect tense [had been] shows the art gallery occupied the building before it was occupied by the museum.)

  • I saw those movies that you listed for me.  
  • I had seen those movies that you listed for me.
    (The past perfect tense is used in place of the simple past tense since I saw those movies happened before you listed them for me.)

 

Past perfect tense and some adverbs
Words such as already, almostjust and as soon as are also used with the Past Perfect tense.

 

Examples:

  • I had already bought an umbrella when it stopped raining.
  • They had almost finished the food by the time we reached there.
  • His whole house had just burnt down when the firefighters arrived.
  • As soon as she had got married, she regretted it.

 

Before and after
An event expressed in the past perfect tense occurs earlier than an event in the past simple tense. However, when before or after is used in a sentence, the past perfect tense becomes unnecessary as the two words - before and after – already clarify which action takes place first. The simple past tense can be used instead in both events. Changing the past perfect tense to past simple tense does not affect the meaning of the sentences. The following examples show that the meanings of the two sentences remain the same.

Examples:

  • After she had read the letter, she tore it into pieces.
  • After she read the letter, she tore it into pieces.
  • We had left the stadium before the match ended.
  • We left the stadium before the match ended.

 

Past perfect tense used after if , if only and wish
The past perfect tense is used in a conditional clause beginning with if, after if only or wish to express a situation in the past, especially one that did not happen in the past and is impossible to happen now.

Examples:

  • If you had studied hard, you wouldn't have been a janitor now.
  • I would have bought two if I had brought enough money with me.
  • If only he had shut up at the meeting, no one would have known his ignorance.
  • If only she had listened to her mother, she wouldn't have made that wrong decision.
  • I wish you had bought one for me.
  • We wish we had not seen that scary movie.

 

Past perfect tense used after certain expressions
Past perfect tense is often used after the following expressions in bold.

Examples:

  • I knew (that) his brother had gone to work overseas.
  • I didn't know (that) he had become  a monk.
  • I thought (that) we had got on the wrong train.
  • I was sure (that) their birds had eaten my bananas.
  • I wasn't sure what had bitten my leg.

 

Past perfect tense and the simple past tense
The past perfect tense and the simple past tense can be used separately in different sentences. Whether the past perfect tense precedes or follows the simple past tense, the action expressed in the past perfect tense will always happen first.

 

Examples:

  • This morning we visited John in the hospital. He had been admitted with stomach pains.
  • We had invited him over for a game of cards. But he wanted to go to bed.

 

Tenses in one clause and following clause are the same
The tense used in one clause must be the same as that used in the following clause; that is, simple present tense is followed by present perfect tense; and simple past tense followed by past perfect tense.

 

Examples:

  • The salad bowl is empty. I have eaten the salad.
  • The salad bowl was empty. I had eaten the salad.
  • We are tired. We have just had a long walk. 
  • We were tired. We had just had a long walk.
  • Grandpa is limping. He has fallen down a drain.
  • Grandpa was limping. He had fallen down a drain.

 

Converting simple past tense to past perfect tense

Examples:

  • George is the captain of his football team. He started playing football when he was 9 years old.
  • George was the captain of his football team. He had started playing football when he was 9 years old.
  • He became the best magician in the country when he was only seventeen.
  • He had become the best magician in the country when he was only seventeen.

 

Indirect speech
The Past Perfect Tense is often used in Reported or Indirect Speech. It is used in place of the verb tense in the direct speech.

Examples:

  • Direct speech: He said, "I have lost my puppy." (Present perfect tense)
  • Indirect speech: He said he had lost his puppy. (Past perfect tense)
  • Direct speech: She said, "I made the biggest birthday cake in town. (Simple past tense)
  • Indirect speech: She said she had made the biggest birthday cake in town. (Past perfect tense)

 

Passive form of past perfect tense
Placing the word been in front of the past participle in an active sentence changes it into the passive form. The passive form is used to show that something was done to the subject and not by the subject.

Examples:

  • He said he had been chased by a rhinoceros.
  • Her ex-boyfriend did not know that he had been invited to her wedding.