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?
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 ….…..
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.
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,
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.