The past perfect tense is used to show that something happened before another action in the past. It can also be used to show that something happened before a specific time in the past.
To form the past perfect tense you use the past tense of the verb "to have," which is had, and add it to the past participle of the main verb. For example: subject + had + past participle = past perfect tense.
Some examples of the past perfect tense can be seen in the following sentences:
- Had met: She had met him before the party.
- Had left: The plane had left by the time I got to the airport.
- Had written: I had written the email before he apologized.
- Had wanted: Kate had wanted to see the movie, but she did not have money for the ticket.
There are several situations where the past perfect tense can be used. It is appropriate to use in the following ways.
To show that an action happened before something else in the past:
- She stayed up all night because she had received bad news.
- They lost many of the games because they had not practiced enough.
- Anthony had met Ryan before you introduced him to us at the party.
- You had studied Italian before you moved to Rome.
To show that an action happened before a specific time in the past:
- She had established her company before 2008.
- He had never played football until last week.
- They had gotten engaged before last year.
- I had fallen asleep before eight o'clock.
Keep in mind that past perfect tense makes it clear that one thing happened before another in the past. The order of events does not matter since the tense makes it clear which event happened first.
Another use of past perfect tense includes reported speech. Examples of this use include:
- The teacher asked if we had studied for the exam.
- The usher asked if we had purchased our tickets.
- My neighbor asked if we had seen her dog.
- The boss had said it would be a long meeting.
Past perfect tense can also be used to show dissatisfaction with the past. Examples of this use include:
- We wished we had purchased the winning ticket.
- I wished I had told the truth.
- She wished she had seen her friend.
- The boy wished he had asked another question.
Past perfect tense can also be used with the word "just." When combined, this makes it clear that the event was only a short time prior. Some examples of this include:
- She had just left the scene when the ambulance arrived.
- He had just put the dog on the leash when we got there.
- The bus had just left when we got to the stop.
- I had just gone outside when it started to rain. *
*Note that the past participle of “to go” is “gone” and not “went” so that is used to form the past perfect form as well.
The following are more examples of past perfect tense in sentences. The past perfect tense is underlined in each sentence.
- I had never seen such a beautiful sunset before I went to the island.
- We were not able to stay overnight at the hotel since we had not reserved a room in advance.
- She had never been to the symphony before last night.
- Marc knew Philadelphia so well because he had lived there for five years.
- He understood the math test because he had been tutored all week.
- I did not have any cash because I had lost my purse.
- I had been to Mexico once before.
- If I had seen him, I would have told him the news.
- Before he did his homework, he had stayed after school for help.
- She had lived in California before moving to Texas.
- The cat had chased the bird before it flew out of the yard.
- We had just called home when my mom texted us about returning the car.
- She had visited several doctors before she found out what the problem was with her hand.
- If we had called ahead, we would not have needed to wait so long for a table.
The past perfect tense is used to show past actions. The past perfect tense demonstrates the past relative to timing or other past events and is often used for reporting on things that happened or were said. It is easy to form by adding had along with the past participle of any verb.