PAST PERFECT TENSE IN DETAIL

The Past Perfect tense use in English
The Past Perfect tense use in English

In this post, we learn what the Past Perfect tense is and how to form sentences in the Past Perfect tense. There is a video lesson attached at the end of the post, so if you prefer learning English through video lectures, scroll down to the end and watch the lesson.

When to use the Past perfect tense?

The past perfect tense is used to talk about actions that happened in the past before another action or a particular time. The action that refers to the first action uses the Past Perfect tense, and the second action is formed in the Simple Past tense.

How to form sentences in the Past perfect tense?

The Past Perfect tense is formed using the past tense of the auxiliary verb “to have” (HAD) and the past participle of the main verb.

Structure: Subject + had + past participle (V3) + object/modifier (optional) + past time marker (optional)

Examples:

  • I had left the party before she arrived.
  • The teacher had ended the class before we took the notes.
  • We had eaten the food already when you came back home.
  • She hadn’t been to Goa before last year.

Note that the action that happened first is in the Past Perfect tense, and the second one is in the Simple Past tense.

Action 1Action 2
I had left the partybefore she arrived.
The teacher had ended the classbefore we took the notes.
we had eaten the food alreadywhen you came back home.
The past perfect tense sentences

We can place the second action (dependent clause) in the beginning of the sentence either.

Action 2Action 1
Before she arrived,I had left the party.
Before we took the notes,the teacher had ended the class.
When you came back home,we had eaten the food already.
The past perfect tense sentences

NOTE: sometimes, we use a past time marker, not an action, to refer to a time before which the action in the Past Perfect tense took place.

  • We had finished the task before 9 pm.
  • Sam had left the job before 2020.

Affirmative sentences

Subjecthad (auxiliary verb)V3 (past participle)
Ihad slept.
Jonhadcome.
The past perfect tense affirmative sentence

Negative sentences

Subjecthad (auxiliary verb)notV3 (past participle)
Ihad notslept.
Jonhadnotcome.
The past perfect tense negative sentence

NOTE: In spoken English, we generally contract the helping verb and “not” in a negative sentence.

  • HAD NOT = hadn’t
  • I hadn’t finished it.
  • He hadn’t called me.

Interrogative sentences

HadsubjectV3 (past participle)?
Hadyouslept?
Hadshecome?
The past perfect tense Interrogative sentence
HadsubjectnotV3 (past participle)?
Hadyounotslept?
Hadn’tshecome?
The past perfect tense Interrogative negative sentence

The Past Perfect Tense examples:

  • Jon had already quit the job when I joined his team.
  • She had left the room before I came back.
  • I hadn’t finished my meal when the cops arrived.
  • The train had left before 7 pm.
  • My father had gifted me a phone before I turned 16.
  • He had submitted the paper before the deadline.
  • The party had been finished before we entered the hall. (passive voice)
  • Had you been to Agra before 2019?
  • She hadn’t finished writing the book when we asked her.
  • We had had dinner before she arrived. (the second HAD is the past participle of HAVE)

NOTE: If the time or the action before which the action in the Past Perfect tense happened is not mentioned, understand that it is understood.

  • We had called her.
  • The teachers hadn’t finished the lectures.
  • She had informed me about it.

We use JUST before the main verb in the Past Perfect tense to show that the time difference between the first action and the second time is quite less.

  • I had just woken up when you called.
  • We had just finished the project when we were called.
  • She had just cancelled the trip before she got robbed.

More examples:

  • I was tired as I hadn’t taken any rest.
  • He was extremely happy because he had cleared the interview.
  • She was sad because she hadn’t got the job.
  • We all were very emotional as our team had won the competition after 10 years.

Here, we are using the past perfect tense to talk about the reason for a particular state of being in the past.

NOTE: in spoken English, we generally contract the subject (personal pronouns) and the auxiliary verb (had).

I hadI’d
We hadWe’d
You hadYou’d
He hadHe’d
She hadShe’d
They hadThey’d
It hadIt’d
Contractions in the past perfect tense
  • I’d left the job before the year ended.
  • We’d cancelled the trip.
  • She’d proposed me in the metro.

NOTE: The contraction I’d also means “I would” in English.

  • I’d like to help you. (I would like to help you.)
  • I’d do it. (I would do it.)
  • I’d deposited the money. (I had deposited the money.)
  • I’d accepted his offer. (I had accepted his offer.)

Notice when the contraction I’d means “I would,” it is followed by a base form of a verb(V1), and when it means “I had,” it is followed by a past participle(V3).

Simple Past tense vs Past Perfect tense

Most people use the Simple Past tense and the Past Perfect tense interchangeably, not knowing they both have a different purpose to serve in the English language and should be accordingly.

Look at the following examples:

  • She slept. (simple past tense)
  • She had slept. (past perfect tense)

Don’t both these sentence give the same meaning? 😉

No, they don’t. The first one (simple past tense) refers to an action that occurred at a particular time in the past; it’s important to mention that time if it’s not understood already. The second one (past perfect tense) refers to an action that occurred in the past before a particular time; focus on the word BEFORE. It focuses on the fact that the action occurred in the past before a particular time. Let’s rewrite the above sentences, mentioning the past time markers.

  • She slept at 11 pm. (simple past tense)
  • She had slept before I came back. (past perfect tense)

More examples:

  • I called him last night. (simple past tense)
  • I had called him before you asked me to do it. (past perfect tense)
  • We went to Shimla last month. (simple past tense)
  • We had gone to Shimla before 2019. (past perfect tense)

Active and Passive voice

Active voice: Subject + had + past participle (V3) + object
Passive voice: Object + had + been + past participle (V3) + by + subject

  • The teacher had started the class.(active voice)
  • The rain had ruined the match. (active voice)
  • The class had been started by the teacher.(passive voice)
  • The match had been ruined the rain. (passive voice)

Click on the Past Perfect tense (active and passive voice) to learn how to change the active voice into the passive voice and when to write a sentence in the a passive voice.

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