Past Perfect Tense: Learn English Grammar

Past Perfect

This article looks at how and when we use the past perfect tense. To form the past perfect we use HAD and the PAST PARTICIPLE.

We use it to describe something that started in the past and happened before another time (also in the past).

For example, ‘They had never been to Italy before. They went for the first time last year.’

How do we form the past perfect?

Long form:

Subject                         had                 past particple                     ……..

I                                         had                 stayed                                 there before

He/she/it                    had                 stayed                                 there before

You/we/they              had                 stayed                                 there before

Short form: usually used in conversation

Subject + had          past particple                          ……..

I‘d                               stayed                                    there before

He’d                           stayed                                    there before

She’d                         stayed                                    there before

It’d                              stayed                                    there before

You’d                         stayed                                    there before

We’d                          stayed                                    there before

They’d                       stayed                                    there before


Subject                     had not/                           past                ….…..

                                       hadn’t                             participle

I                                      had not/hadn’t                   swum             before

He/she/it                  had not/hadn’t                   swum             before

You/we/they            had not/hadn’t                   swum             before


The past perfect: both actions happened in the past but the past perfect action shows us what happened first.

Past Perfect example

I had lived in Germany for six years when I moved to Spain.


We played football yesterday. I had never played before (before yesterday).


He saw the film with me last week. He had already seen it five times but I had only seen it once (before last week).


It had snowed all night and we were able to build a snowman in the garden the next day.


When the waiter brought us the bill I realised I had forgotten my wallet. It was so embarrassing!


When we got to the restaurant we found we had booked for a different day.


The film had already started when we got to the cinema.


Sometimes we use ‘time conjunctions’ with the past perfect.

Eg. Before, after, when,

Past perfect example 3 using when

Compare before and after

After they had gone for a walk they went to the cinema.

They had gone for a walk before they went to the cinema.

1st action: they went for a walk

2nd action: they went to the cinema


We had finished our meal before the taxi arrived to take us home.

The taxi arrived to take us home after we had finished our meal.


Forming questions with the past perfect.


Had                subject                      past participle

Had                I                                   played?

Had                he/she/it                      played?

Had                you/we/they                played?


Had                subject                                 past participle

Had                I                                  not      played?

Hadn’t            I                                             played?

Had               he/she/it                      not      played?

Hadn’t           he/she/it                                 played?

Had               you/we/they                not      played?

Hadn’t           you/we/they                           played?


Had you ever played rugby before you joined the rugby club?’

I’d played a couple of times when I was at school but I hadn’t played since then until I joined the club.’


We also use the past perfect when forming the 3rd conditional.We use the 3rd conditional to talk about ‘impossible’ situations. They are impossible because they talk about something that did not happen in the past. We cannot change the situation. We often use would, could or might.


If I had known you were going to visit me I would have stayed at home that day.

If you had come earlier you would have seen Joe. He’s just left.

If I had gone to Maria’s party I might have met her new boyfriend.






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