A Guide to the Past Perfect Tense
  • 4-minute read
  • 26th October 2022

A Guide to the Past Perfect Tense

English is a complicated language to learn for English as a second language speakers (ESL), and even if you are an English speaker, tenses are sometimes difficult to get to grips with. However, the past perfect tense (also known as pluperfect) is one of the easiest to understand and use. Most of us will almost certainly use it every day. But what exactly is it? And how does it work? Check out our guide below to find out how to use the past perfect tense correctly in your writing.

What is the Past Perfect Tense?

We use the past perfect tense to refer to a time earlier than before now. It is a verb tense which is used to describe how one action happened before another in the past. You do not have to mention the actions in order because the verb tense makes it clear which happened first. The past perfect tense talks about the past in the past.

Using the Past Perfect Tense

In English, the past perfect tense is composed of two parts: the past tense of the verb to have (had) and the past participle of the main verb/s.

We can illustrate this in the following examples:

She had bought some new shoes.

Jessica had baked a cake.

Brendan had gone out with the dog when I arrived home.

Let’s look at some additional examples of how we can use the past perfect tense.

For actions completed before another begins (both beginning and ending in the past):

I had never travelled on an underground train before I moved to London.

After she had attended university, she became an accountant.

They had hidden in the bushes while he counted to ten.

For actions of duration before something that began and ended in the past:

I had attended the concerts for years without ever having to purchase tickets.

He had repeatedly admitted it was his fault.

They would have never known the truth without investigating.

For actions expressing conditional statements that occurred in the past as a consequence of the condition:

If I had listened during the lesson, I would have passed the test.

If you had understood me, you would not be asking the same questions.

If you had telephoned beforehand, you would not have missed us.

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For reported speech that occurred in the past, and that could have occurred more than once or over a period of time:

The forecaster had said it would be a hot day.

The child had asked how many planets were in the sky.

The patient had asked the nurse another question.

To show dissatisfaction with the past and indicate an event that did not actually happen:

She wished she had returned the dress.

He wished he had ordered a different book.

We wished we had taken our daughter on holiday with us.

To refer to an event that occurred only a short time earlier than now, just can be used:

The bus had just left when I arrived at the bus stop.

He had just left the office when the telephone rang.

I had just put the washing on the line when it started to rain.

To use it in negative sentences:

I had not visited that museum before today.

My sister hadn’t ever been to Majorca.

My friend had never gone abroad.

Proofreading for Grammar

Hopefully, our quick guide will help you to use the past perfect tense with confidence. But if you would like a little extra help with your grammar, our proofreaders are experts. Why not submit a free trial document for proofreading today? 

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