How To Use Past Perfect Tense? Definition & Examples!

Past perfect tense rules and examples

The past perfect tense is a verb tense used to indicate that something happened before something else.  

The past perfect tense is formed by combining the auxiliary verb “had” with the past participle of the main verb. For example, the past perfect tense of the verb “eat” is “had eaten.”

The past perfect tense is a little tricky at first, but it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

This blog post will help you understand when and how to use the past perfect tense. In addition, we’ll provide some examples so you know when to use this tense.

Table of Contents

What is the past perfect tense?

The past perfect is an advanced tense that describes an action that happened in the past and was completed before another action occurred. This means that the action in the past was completed before something else happened.

It’s very important to understand the uses of this tense because it is so often used incorrectly.

If you want to improve your grammar, reading comprehension, and writing skills, you need to know how and when you should use the past perfect tense.

We will take a closer look at how this tense is used and its common uses in everyday life.

The Common Uses of Past Perfect

Sometimes the past perfect is called the past of the past.

What does the past of the past mean? Let us try to understand this.

Suppose it is 5 pm right now and you are reading this article about past perfect tense. Everything that happened before 5 pm is in the past. And, you must have done something before 5 pm, right?

You can describe or talk about what you did before 5 pm using the simple past tense. You could say something like this:

I finished my homework.

I went shopping.

But, when you say these sentences, it is not clear which action happened first. In order to clarify which action happened first or before the other action, you could say, 

I had finished my homework before I went shopping.

In this case, “had finished” tells us that this action took place first. Here this action is the past of the past.

So, we use the past perfect tense for those actions which happened before another action in the past. We use the simple past tense for the action that happened later.

Here are some examples of past perfect tense: –

It had rained before we left home.

John had eaten his dinner when his wife arrived.

I had been to Peru before I visited last year.

When my father got there, the game had already started.

She had learned German before she went to Germany.

They had visited Spain before they moved there.

By the time my sister reached the station, the train had left.

She had gone to the supermarket before we reached home.

They had known each other for 10 years before they got married.

How to use the past perfect tense?

We use the past perfect tense formula or structure to form a past perfect sentence. We also need the past participle form of the verb. 

Regular verbs and irregular verbs (two types of verbs) have different past participle forms. We just add “ed” to regular verbs to make the past participle. As an example: “work” becomes “worked“. However, there are some spelling changes that we have to make for regular verbs.

In the case of irregular verbs, there are no such rules. The irregular verbs often change or sometimes they don’t change at all. So, you have to learn and remember the past participle form of the irregular verbs. For example: “go” becomes “gone”, “buy” becomes “bought”.

Past Perfect Tense Structure

Past perfect tense structure
Past Perfect Tense Structure and Examples

Let’s look at the past perfect tense rule (structure) that we use to make sentences.

1. Past Perfect Affirmative Sentence Structure

Subject + had + Verb (past participle) + Object

Examples of past perfect tense affirmative Sentences:

I went to bed after I had taken my meal.

They had reached home before it began to rain.

When we reached, the meeting had started.

When we entered the class, the bell had rung.

Her mother had died before the doctor came.

Contraction or Sort Form in Past Perfect Affirmative Sentence

I went to bed after I’d taken my meal. (I had – I’d)

They’d reached home before it began to rain. (They had – they’d)

I had – I’d

You had – you’d

He had – he’d

She had – she’d

We had – we’d

They had – they’d

It had – it’d

2. Past Perfect Negative Sentence Structure

Subject + had + not + Verb (past participle) + Object

Examples of past perfect tense negative sentences:

I went to bed after I had not taken my meal.

They had not reached home before it began to rain.

When we reached, the meeting had not started.

When we entered the class, the bell had not rung.

Her mother had not died before the doctor came.

Contraction or Sort Form in Past Perfect Negative Sentence

Had not –   hadn’t

I went to bed after I hadn’t taken my meal.

They hadn’t reached home before it began to rain.

When we reached, the meeting hadn’t started.

When we entered the class, the bell hadn’t rung.

Her mother hadn’t died before the doctor came.

3. Past Perfect Question Sentence Structure

Had + Subject + Verb (past participle) + Object?

Examples of past perfect tense question sentences:

Had you taken your meal before you went to bed?

Had they reached home before it began to rain?

Had the meeting started when you reached there?

Had the bell rung when you entered the class?

Had her mother died before the doctor came?

Summary

We use past perfect tense to describe an action that happened before another action in the past.  When there are two or more actions or events in the past, and to show which of those things happened first, we use past perfect tense. We can use simple past tense for the other action that happened later.

FAQs

What is the difference between past simple and past perfect?

Both the past simple and past perfect tenses are used to talk about actions or events that happened in the past. However, the past simple is used to describe events that happened at a specific time in the past, while the past perfect is used to describe events that happened before another event in the past.
For example, if you want to talk about an event that happened yesterday, you would use past simple. I went shopping yesterday.
On the other hand, if you want to talk about an event that happened before the other event, you would use past perfect. I had called him before I went shopping.

Why Is The Past Perfect Tense Important?

There’s no doubt that the past perfect tense is an important part of the English language. Correct usage of this tense will let you express yourself better in conversations and writing. Whenever we talk about two or more past events, we use the past perfect tense. We can use this tense to order past events or actions.

How to form the past perfect tense?

Using the past perfect tense formula/structure, you can form the past perfect tense.

What is the formula of past perfect tense?

The Past perfect tense formula is
Subject + had + Verb (past participle) + Object

When not to use the past perfect tense?

You shouldn’t use the past perfect tense if you’re describing something that started in the past but is not finished yet. For such actions or events, we use the present perfect tense.

Where is the past perfect tense used?

If you want to talk about something you did in the past before another action happened, you can use the past perfect tense.


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