Past Perfect Tense

Introduction to Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is a verb tense used to express a completed action that took place at some point in the past. It is usually used to talk about an action that took place before another past event.

When to Use Past Perfect Tense

Past perfect tense is used in certain situations including but not limited to:

  • When indicating a completed action or condition that occurred before another past action.
  • When indicating a condition or action that was finished before a specific time in the past.
  • When expressing regret about an action that didn't occur in the past.

Forming the Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is formed by combining 'had' (the past tense of the auxiliary verb 'have') with the past participle of the main verb. The past participle of a verb is usually formed by adding '-ed' to the end of the regular verbs, but irregular verbs follow different rules.

Structure of Past Perfect Tense

The structure is as follows:

Subject + had + Past Participle

For example:

  • "She had gone."
  • "They had finished."

Negative Statements

To make negative statements in the past perfect tense, you add 'not' after 'had':

Subject + had + not + Past Participle

For example:

  • "She had not gone."
  • "They had not finished."


To form questions in the past perfect tense, you switch the auxiliary verb 'had' and the subject:

Had + subject + Past Participle?

For example:

  • "Had she gone?"
  • "Had they finished?"

Past Participle

The past participle is formed differently for regular and irregular verbs. For regular verbs, simply add "-ed" at the end. For example, the past participle of "play" is "played".

However, irregular verbs do not follow this rule and must be memorized. For example, the past participle of "go" is "gone", not "goed".

Signal Words of Past Perfect Tense

There are certain words and phrases that signal the use of the past perfect tense. Here are some examples:

  • After
  • Before
  • By the time
  • When
  • Until

Examples of Past Perfect Tense

Here are some examples of sentences in the past perfect tense:

  • He had studied English before he moved to New York.
  • By the time I arrived, the meeting had already started.
  • I had not seen her until she turned up at the party.
  • They had finished their homework when their friends came over.

Mistakes to Avoid

Ensure that the past participle is used after 'had'. Many people incorrectly use the base form of the verb or the past simple. For example, it is incorrect to say "she had went" or "he had spoke". The correct forms are "she had gone" and "he had spoken".

The past perfect must describe the action that happened first when two past actions are being discussed. For example, "After he had eaten, he went to bed" is correct, but "After he went to bed, he had eaten" is incorrect.

In summary, the past perfect tense is a powerful tool in English used to talk about completed actions in the past. Understanding how it is formed and its usage rules is key to mastering this tense.

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