Grammar: Past Perfect

Published 10/08/2015 In Blog


We use the Past Perfect to talk about a action/event in the past that has finished before another action/event started.


Example: I had finished my homework when Jane phoned me.

In this sentence the action of 'finishing homework' comes before the action of 'phoning', so therefore we use the Present Perfect.



How do we construct the Past Perfect?

Subj + HAD + Past Participle form of the verb




When do we use the Past Perfect?


1. To talk about an event/action that started in the past and that continued until a given point in time. So, it is therefore used to express duration:


Examples: I had been in the house for two hours when Peter called

                He had studied French for three years when he moved to Paris




2. To talk about something that occurred before another specific action in the past:


Examples: I could not open the door because I had lost my key

                I had never eaten paella before I went to Spain



Can we use the Past Simple instead of the Present Perfect?

Yes! If we know the specific time when an action took place and we have the prepositions 'before' or 'after' in the sentence, the Past Simple can be used instead of the Present Perfect.

With the prepositions 'before' and 'after' we know which action happened first, so this is why the sentences below are both correct:


Examples: She had visited Tokyo in 2001 before she moved to Japan in 2010.

                She visited Tokyo in 2001 before she moved to Japan in 2010.



In the following sentences both tenses are not an option: 


She had never seen an elephant before she went to Sri Lanka   (correct)

She never saw an elephant before she went to Sri Lanka  (incorrect)


Here the Past Perfect sentence is referring to a lack of experience rather than an action at a specific time, so this is why the Past Simple sentence is not correct.

*Remember that in order to be able to use the Past Simple it has to refer an action at a certain point in time.



Difference between the Present Perfect and the Past Perfect:

In comparison to the Present Perfect, it is possible to specify time with words or phrases in the Present Perfect, but it is not a must.


Examples: She had visited Tokyo in 2001 before she moved to Japan in 2010.



Hopefully this post will have helped you to understand when we use the Present Perfect, but if you still have any questions, please don't hesitate contacting me at:

I will be more than happy to answer!

past perfect english grammar

contact | any questions?

Contact details

Message information

Validate that you are not a robot