Past Perfect Tense
Common Uses with Examples
is a verb form that shows that an action was
complete before another action in the past.
Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses
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:
action that happened before another action in the past
action that happened before a specific time in the past
state that started in the past, and continued up to some time in the
The general form of the past perfect tense is:
had + past participle
is the same as the past simple for all regular verbs in English.
- 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.
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
that happened before
another action in the past. The events can be at a
specific or unknown time in the past.
- 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
Africa before her trip in 2009.
- Sam had
seen the red car before he ran into it.
Although the past perfect tense is correct in written
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
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
Mike watched television after
he finished his homework.
- My mom left before
I woke up.
I woke up after
my mom left.
- The team finished practice before
- Sam saw the red car before he
ran into it.
Sam ran into the red car after
he saw it.
2. Reported speech
We often use the past perfect tense in reported
when we report
something that someone else has said, thought, or believed.
Reported speech uses
verbs such as:
- 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
- Nick thought Lisa had called
- She asked if I had
read the newspaper article about her school.
3. Third conditional
The past perfect tense is also used with third
Third conditional sentences show an event that never happened
- 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
(She did not go to the interview.)
- You would not be hungry if you had eaten your
(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.)
These were the common uses of the Past Perfect Tense. Now that you know
them, it is
time to practice! Read and do