Past Perfect Tense

Common Uses with Examples


Past Perfect TensePast Perfect Tense is a verb form that shows that an action was complete before another action in the past.

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In this lesson, we will take a closer look at common uses of the past perfect tense in modern English.

This type of PERFECT means "complete" or "finished."

There are three different usages of this tense. We use the past perfect tense to talk about:

  1. An action that happened before another action in the past

  2. An action that happened before a specific time in the past

  3. A state that started in the past, and continued up to some time in the past

The general form of the past perfect tense is:

had + past participle


The past participle is the same as the past simple for all regular verbs in English.

verb past participle
jump jumped
talk talked
eat eaten
sleep slept
watch watched


Examples:
  • He had not visited America before his trip last year.

  • She had wanted water, but got milk.

  • Mom asked if I had finished my work before the party.

finishing workparty


Common ways to use the past perfect tense  in modern English

1. An action that happened before another action in the past

We use the past perfect tense to talk about an action in the past that happened before another action in the past. The events can be at a specific or unknown time in the past.

Examples:
  • Mike had finished his homework before he watched television.

  • My mom had left before I woke up.

  • The snow had started to fall before Christmas Eve.

  • The team had finished practice before 10:00.

  • She had never visited Africa before her trip in 2009.

  • Sam had seen the red car before he ran into it.

Note:

Although the past perfect tense is correct in written English, native English  speakers in the United States do not use this form often in spoken English.

They usually only use the past perfect if the earlier action had an important effect on the later action.

The words "after" and "before" tell the listener or reader that the action happened in the past without using the word "had."

Native English speakers would usually say:
  • Mike finished his homework before he watched television.

    OR

    Mike watched television after he finished his homework.

  • My mom left before I woke up.

    OR

    I woke up after my mom left.

  • The team finished practice before 10:00.

  • Sam saw the red car before he ran into it.

    OR

    Sam ran into the red car after he saw it.
car crash

2. Reported speech

We often use the past perfect tense in reported speech when we report something that someone else has said, thought, or believed.

Reported speech uses verbs such as:
  • said
  • wondered
  • asked
  • told
  • thought
  • believed

Examples:
  • Tim told me that he had asked Sally on a date.

  • He asked us if the snow had melted.

  • I wondered what she had written.

  • Mom said she had not finished cleaning the house before the guests arrived.

  • Nick thought Lisa had called last night.

  • She asked if I had read the newspaper article about her school.
asking questions

3. Third conditional

The past perfect tense is also used with third conditional sentences.

Third conditional sentences show an event that never happened in the past.

Examples:
  • I might have passed the class if I had studied for the final test.

    (I did not study for the final test.)

  • If mom had remembered her wallet, we could buy lunch.

    (Mom did not remember her wallet.)

  • She would have gotten the job if she had gone to the interview.

    (She did not go to the interview.)

  • You would not be hungry if you had eaten your breakfast.

    (You did not eat your breakfast.)

  • If the alarm had rung this morning, I would not be late.

    (The alarm did not ring this morning.)
late for the train

These were the common uses of the Past Perfect Tense. Now that you know them, it is time to practice! Read and do exercises.

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