The Past Perfect is a verb tense used to express actions that occurred in the past and finished before another action in the past.
We use the Past Perfect for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past. The Past Perfect is used in the same way as the Present Perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present.
Here’s a depiction of what Past Perfect means:
- She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Milan all her life.
- After we had purchased tickets, we were able to enter the venue.
The Past Perfect is normally used with the Past Simple to talk about two or more events that happened at different times in the past. In such statements the Past Simple describes the event that is closest to the time of speaking. The Past Perfect describes an event further back in the past. To denote this sequence of actions, the prepositions ‘after‘ and ‘before‘ are often used.
- The train had left (Past Perfect) before we arrived (Past Simple) at the station. (The train left earlier and we arrived later).
- Anthony had gone (Past Perfect) to the university when I knocked (Past Simple) on his door.
- He had cooked (Past Perfect) dinner before Gwen got (Past Simple) back from work.
How to form Past Perfect
To make the Past Perfect, use:
had + the Past Participle form of the verb
|Note: For regular verbs, this is the “-ed” form of the verb. For the list of Past Participle forms of irregular verbs see our article on irregular verbs.|
|I had planned|
You had planned
He/she/it had planned
|We had planned|
You had planned
They had planned
In the following examples, even if the Past Simple action is first in the sentence, it still happened later:
- The traffic was bad because a car had broken on the road.
- When we arrived at the stadium, the game had already started.
When to use Past Perfect
The Past Perfect is used to convey the following meanings.
A finished action before a second point in the past
- After we had repaired the car, we went to the seas.
- When we arrived, the movie had already started.
An action of duration before some point in the past
- When Sarah graduated, she had been in Berlin for six years.
- On the 20th of May, I’d worked here for six months.
Unreal or imaginary things in the past
- If I had known you were ill, I would have visited you.
- She would have passed the exam if she had studied harder.
- I wish I hadn’t gone to bed so late!
In this video from AMES 836, you’ll find a good explanation of what the Past Perfect means and how it is used:
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