ESL Guide for Past Perfect Verb Tenses
What is the past perfect tense?
The past perfect tense is a tense used to express something that happened in the past before something else that also happened in the past. In other words, the past perfect tense expresses the relationship of two past events to each other on a timeline. The tense helps to clearly state which past event happened first.
The something else event may not be expressed in the same sentence. It may have been previously stated or it may be something already known.
How is the past perfect tense used in simple sentences?
The past perfect tense can be used in a simple sentence (a one clause sentence) to show its time relationship to another sentence. The first event on the timeline (even if not stated first) commonly uses the past perfect tense. The second event on the timeline (the referenced event) usually uses a different tense.
Statements in the past perfect tense are formed in the following manner:
subject + had + past participle
Past Simple (2nd event)
- I moved to the USA in 2010.
- I took our car into my mechanic.
- I watched a movie with Marty last night.
Past Perfect Tense (1st event)
- I had visited the USA once before my move.
- I had tried to fix our car on my own.
- Mary had seen the movie.
How is the past perfect tense used in complex sentences?
Complex sentences express multiple actions or events. The past perfect tense is frequently used in complex sentences to show which action or event happened first.
Clauses in complex sentences are usually connected by subordinating conjunctions such as the words because and before. For more information about subordinating conjunctions click here.
Simple Sentence (Event 2)
Past Simple Tense
- Audrey gave me directions to the museum.
- I went to Paris.
- Sheila took her car to First Place Auto.
- Harry went to bed early.
Simple Sentence (Event 1)
Past Perfect Tense
- She had been there previously.
- I had never seen such a beautiful city.
- Her friend Ted had taken his car there.
- He had worked all day.
Both Events/Both Tenses
- Audrey gave me the directions to the museum because she had been there previously.
- I had never seen such a beautiful city before I went to Paris,
- Sheila took her car to First Place Auto because her friend Ted had taken his car there.
- Harry went to bed early because he had worked all day.
What are examples of negative past perfect statements?
Negative statements in the past perfect tense are formed in the following manner:
subject + had + not + past participle
Past Simple Statement (2nd Event)
- I voted by mail this year.
- You were still at the party at 8:00 p.m.
- Aaron talked about the project at our second meeting.
- Dana went to Sherman’s Steakhouse on her date.
- It rained for an hour last night.
- Terry and I were late to the meeting
- David’s team played at Belmont Park yesterday.
Past Perfect Negative Statement (1st Event)
- I had not done that before.
- You had not left yet.
- He had not talked about the project at the first meeting.
- She had never been there before.
- It had not rained since last spring.
- We had not planned on the traffic.
- They had not played there before.
What are examples of past perfect questions?
Past perfect questions ask about actions or states that happened before other actions or states in the past.
Questions in the past perfect tense are formed in the following manner:
Had + subject + past participle
Past Perfect Question
- Had you seen your sister perform before then?
- Had I been there before that day?
- Had Roger eaten at that restaurant before?
- Had Shelly ever taken that bus?
- Had we gone that way before?
- Had you stayed at that hotel before your last trip?
Past Perfect Answer
- No, I had not seen her perform before then.
- Yes, you had been there one time previously.
- No, he had never eaten there before.
- Yes, she had taken that bus twice.
- No, we had never gone that way.
- Yes, we had stayed there once before our last trip.
What are good examples of the past perfect tense?
More examples of the past perfect tense.
- I had tried to fix it on my own.
- Mary had already seen the movie twice.
- Ricky knew the directions to the campground because he had been there before.
- Before I went to Rome, I had never seen such a beautiful city.
- We had not planned on the traffic.
- I hadn’t done that before.
- Had Roger eaten at that restaurant before yesterday?
- Had you seen your sister perform before last night?