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Past Perfect Tense: Definition, Rules and Useful Examples


Past Perfect Tense! The past perfect tense might also be referred to as the pluperfect tense and is something which is commonly used in spoken and written English. This tense is used in order to talk about an event which has taken place before a certain point in the past. This might sound complicated but it certainly isn’t.

In this section, we are going to be taking a look at the past perfect tense in much more detail and the rules that surround its use. This will enable you to create much more detailed and complex sentences when talking about the past.

Past Perfect Tense

What is the Past Perfect Tense?

The past perfect tense keeps the past “in the past” as they say. The verbs that are placed in this tense have to happen AND complete BEFORE a related action can occur. This past participle tense takes the past form of the verb to have’ as a modifier (e.g. had talked).

The past perfect form has a couple of different functions that it can perform:

  1. It can describe an action that occurred in the past that is related to another action that occurred in the past after the first action (e.g. I had driven to Pittsburgh before driving on to Detroit).
  2. It can describe two non-continuous actions that occurred in sequence (e.g. I had driven to Florida and then boarded a cruise two days later.)

These two functions are very similar but the nuances between them are a bit different in terms of what information is conveyed to the listener/reader.

The exercise section below includes several really good samples that demonstrate how to use the past perfect tense in real conversation. After looking through these examples, keep reading until the very end for some additional practice questions concerning how to choose the right form of this verb tense to complete a sentence. When reading newspapers, magazines, Wikipedia pages, or novels, it is highly recommended to have a lookup webpage at hand that will show synonyms, definitions, and grammar usage, especially when reading words that are new and unfamiliar.

Past Perfect Tense Structure

The Past Perfect is used to talk about actions that were completed before some point in the past.

The Past Perfect is formed by combining had with the past participle of the main verb.

Positive Sentence:

S + had + past participle + …


She had finished the test.

Negative Sentence:

S + had not/hadn’t + past participle + …


She hadn’t finished the test.

Question form:

Had + S + past participle + …?


Had she finished the test?

Examples of the Past Perfect Tense

  1. My kids were really exhausted and ready for sleep because they had both played soccer for hours that afternoon.
  2. My daughter had won the two previous spelling bees which made her feel very disappointed when she lost this year to another student.
  3. had just arrived at the airport gate when I saw the attendant closing the gate.
  4. My teacher thought she had sent out letters to all the parents about the upcoming field trip until she found all the papers sitting in the copy tray.
  5. had paid my son an allowance last year but asked him to get a job this year instead.
  6. My son had volunteered to help me in the garden all summer until he realized how much work it actually was.
  7. Had you concentrated harder on learning your ABCs in elementary school, these reports would not be as difficult for you to write now that you have an office job.
  8. Can you tell me how much money you had saved up before your student loan became due?
  9. had played a trick on my neighbors this past Halloween, but then they called the police and reported me.
  10. My friend had slept over at my house for the last two weeks and then I spent the next two weekends at his place.

How to Use the Past Perfect Tense?

Learn how and when to use the Past Perfect Tense in English with helpful grammar rules, example sentences and ESL printable worksheets.

The Past Perfect Tense Usage

The Past Perfect Tense is used:

1. To describe an action finished before another past action


  • Richard had gone out when his wife arrived in the office.

2. To describe an action that happened before a specific time in the past


  • Christine had never been to an opera before last night.

3. To describe cause and effect (combine with Past Simple)


  • I got stuck in traffic because there had been an accident.

4. To emphasize the result of activity in the past


  • I had been to London twice by the time I got a job in New York.

Time Expressions Used with the Past Perfect Tense

  • Already
  • Yet
  • For
  • Since
  • Just
  • After
  • Before
  • Until
  • The moment that

The Past Perfect Chart | Picture

Past Perfect Tense! Learn how and when to use the Past Perfect Tense in English with helpful grammar rules, example sentences and ESL printable worksheets.Pin

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