Unit 3.1

Past Perfect

Tenses - 3 minutes

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Introduction

The past perfect is a tense used to talk about actions or events that took place earlier than other past actions and to clarify the idea that something had already happened at the time we are talking about.

Form

The past perfect has  three forms:

Affirmative

Its structure, in the affirmative form, is:
Subject + had* + past participle + …

  • Had* is the past tense of the verb to have.
  • Regular past participles are formed by adding -d or -ed to the base form of verbs.
  • Irregular past participles have to be learned by heart.
SUBJECTAUXILIARY VERBPAST PARTICIPLE
I/You/He/She/It/We/You/Theyhadworked

Negative

Its structure, in the negative form, is:
Subject + had not + past participle + …

  • Negative short form is: hadn’t.
SUBJECTAUXILIARY VERB + NOT
PAST PARTICIPLE
I/You/He/She/It/We/You/Theyhad not
worked

Interrogative

Its structure, in the interrogative form, is:
Had + subject + past participle + …?

AUXILIARY VERBSUBJECTPAST PARTICIPLEQUESTION MARK
HadI/You/He/She/It/We/You/Theyworked?

{see Past Participle, A1 level, to learn irregular verbs}.

Example

  1. She hadn’t sent the email when she came back home.
  2. “I have given the news.” You said you had given the news.
  3. He hadn’t left a message before he came to my house.
    Had they written a note before leaving the city?
  4. You had told a long story to the children before they slept.
  5. Had they sealed the envelopes in 2011 and then gave them to the customers?
  6. If he hadn’t written an essay, he wouldn’t have achieved a good grade.

Use

We use the past perfect to illustrate that one event happened before another in the past.

We use the past perfect tense:

  1. For something that happened in the past but is important at the time of reporting;
  2. In reported speech;
  3. To talk about a completed action that happened earlier than another past action;
  4. To talk about long-lasting past actions;
  5. When we refer to specific events that happened in the past;
  6. With the third conditional.

Summary

The past perfect is used to talk about actions or events that took place earlier than other past actions, in reported speech and with the third conditional.

We can use it in its different forms:

  • Affirmative: We start with the subject followed by had and the past participle of a verb.
  • Negative: We start with the subject followed by had not and the past participle of a verb.
  • Interrogative: We start with had followed by the subject and the past participle of a verb (the sentence ends with a question mark).

For example:
— “I had worked on important projects before I became the manager.” = In this sentence, there are two different actions that took place in the past. To put them in an order, we write the first action in the past perfect tense, and we used the past simple tense to indicate that the second event happened first.
♦ “I worked on important projects last month.= We use the past simple to express the idea of an action that started and concluded in the past.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

Exercise

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