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Past Perfect

In this post you will learn all about the PAST PERFECT TENSE in English. Keep reading to learn when and how to use the PAST PERFECT and the PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS (sometimes called the PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE TENSE). You will also see examples of the PAST PERFECT and comparisons to other past and perfect verb tenses. If you have any questions, let us know by email, phone or Whatsapp and we will send you further resources.

What is the Past Perfect Tense?

The PAST PERFECT is a verb tense that is used to describe an action or state that finished or happened before another past action or time. It is used to show the sequence of actions or states in the past. The PAST PERFECT is also known as PLUPERFECT but more commonly referred to as PAST PERFECT in English.

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When to use Past Perfect?

We use the PAST PERFECT Tense to describe an action that finished or happened before another past action or time.

Past Perfect Tense Examples

Past Perfect Tense Examples

Where had you lived before you moved to Miami? I had lived in Argentina before I moved to Miami.

How many years had you studied by the time you graduated? By the time I graduated, I had studied for 4 years. Had they eaten before they went to school? Yes, they had. After they had eaten breakfast, they went to school.

Had you ever been in the USA prior to that trip? Yes I had. I had been here twice before that trip.

Had the UK ever had a female Prime Minister before Margaret Thatcher? No, they’d never had a female PM before her.

Past Perfect Verb Forms

The form of the PAST PERFECT TENSE is SUBJECT + HAD + PAST PARTICIPLE

Or, when using the negative form it is SUBJECT + HAD + NOT + PAST PARTICIPLE

If you need to learn the irregular verbs check out our Irregular Verbs List.

Quick tip! 

The PAST PERFECT is often used with the words below.  Watch out for these signal words!

By the time, By…(specific time), **Before, After** With before and after it is possible to use the Past (SIMPLE PAST), which is often preferred.

Past Perfect vs Present Perfect

The PAST PERFECT TENSE is used to describe an action that finished or happened before another past action or time. The PRESENT PERFECT Tense is used to show that an action, or state, happened in the past at an indefinite time or began in the past and continues to the present. 

PAST PERFECT Examples: 

  • I had read that book twice before it came out as a movie.
  • Before moving to Salt Lake City, she had never snowboarded. 

PRESENT PERFECT Examples: 

  • Have you ever visited Key West? Yes, I have visited Key West (many times).
  • How long has she been married? She has been married for 2 years.

Simple Past vs Past Perfect

Simple Past vs Past Perfect

We use the PAST TENSE (SIMPLE PAST) to speak about an action which happened, began and ended,, in the past. The PAST PERFECT TENSE is used to describe an action that finished or happened before another past action or time.

SIMPLE PAST Examples: 

I read that book.

I ate breakfast at 9:00. 

I watched that show many times when I lived in Korea.

PAST PERFECT Examples: 

  • I had never danced the Tango before I visited Argentina
  • I had never heard of that show until I moved to Korea.

Past Perfect vs Past Perfect Continuous

The PAST PERFECT TENSE is used to describe an action that finished or happened before another past action or time. The PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS is used to describe a past action that continued up until another past action or time. 

PAST PERFECT Examples: 

  • I had never known about that before you told me.
  • When I got home she had already gone to bed

PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS Examples: 

  • By the time I left I had been waiting for six hours. 
  • We had been talking by phone for 10 minutes until we realized that we were neighbors.

We sometimes use the PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS to describe the length or duration of the completed action or time. The PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS emphasizes the duration and CONTINUOUS nature of the action, or can simply be a style choice to stress the action. We also use the PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS to show a relationship between two past actions, or to show the cause of an action or event in the past.

The PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS cannot be used with Non-Action Verbs, sometimes called Stative Verbs. The PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS can ONLY be used with Verbs Implying Action. Sometimes a verb can have a Stative meaning and an Active meaning. Note the differences:

Question: Why was he sweating?

Correct: He was sweating because he had been running. (This emphasizes the activity: running)

Correct: He was sweating because he had run to the store for milk. (This emphasizes the result: sweating)

Correct: I had already studied for two years by the time I met Carrie.

Correct: I had already been studying for two years by the time I met Carrie. 

(To study, to work, to live, and other verbs of a similar nature can be expressed either way with no change in meaning.)

Correct: He had already spoken when she entered. (The action of speaking finished before she entered.)

Correct: She had known him before she started school.Incorrect:(To know is a non-action verb.)

Correct: Had the UK ever had a female PM before Margaret Thatcher? No, they had

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