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What Is Past Perfect Tense? | Examples & Exercises

Verbs updated on  February 5, 2024 3 min read
The past perfect tense is used for verbs describing past actions that took place before another past action or up to a certain point in the past.

To form the past perfect tense, use “had” with the past participle of the main verb (e.g., “Mai had finished her homework”).

You don’t need to change the form of past perfect verbs for different subjects (e.g., “I had gone,” “they had gone”).


Past perfect tense forms

Affirmative

Negative

Interrogative

I had talked

I hadn’t talked

Had I talked?

You had talked (singular)

You hadn’t talked (singular)

Had you talked? (singular)

He/she/it had talked

He/she/it hadn’t talked

Had he/she/it talked?

We had talked

We hadn’t talked

Had we talked?

You had talked (plural)

You hadn’t talked (plural)

Had you talked? (plural)

They had talked

They hadn’t talked

Had they talked?

How to use the past perfect  

The past perfect tense (also known as the pluperfect) has a few uses:

  • It can describe a past event that happened before another past event.
  • It can describe something that occurred up to a certain point in the past.
  • It can be used in conditional sentences to talk about a hypothetical consequence to something that didn’t happen.
To form the past perfect tense, place the auxiliary verb “had” before the past participle of the main verb.

Examples: Past perfect tense
When Otto got home, he saw that Hannah had eaten dinner already.
She had studied French for three years but still couldn’t understand him.
If I had known, I would have said something.

Present perfect vs past perfect

The past perfect tense describes past actions that were completed before another past action or up to a certain point in the past.

The present perfect tense, however, is for actions that began in the past and have some connection or relevance to the present, such as a recently completed action, an experience, a change that happened over time, or an action or state that may continue.


Examples: Present perfect vs past perfect

I have been to Croatia three times.
I had been to Croatia three times before I turned 30.

I have been a teacher for 10 years. [I’m still a teacher now.]
I had been a teacher for 10 years when I changed careers.

Simple past vs past perfect

The simple past tense is used to describe actions that took place in the past.

The past perfect tense is used for past actions that occurred before another past action or up to a certain point in the past.


Examples: Simple past vs past perfect

We drank wine and watched a movie.

I had cleaned the house when Dave called.

How to form negatives

To form a negative past perfect statement, place the auxiliary verb “had” and the adverb “not” (or the contraction “hadn’t”) before the past participle of the main verb.


Examples: Negative past perfect sentences
It was 3 a.m., but Amelia still had not gone to bed.
They hadn’t packed even though they would be leaving in an hour.
I hadn’t bought her a present, so I gave her some money.

How to form questions

To ask a yes or no question in the past perfect tense, place the auxiliary verb “had” before the subject and the past participle of the main verb.

Examples: Past perfect questions

Had you been to Japan before you went on your honeymoon?

Had he read the book before seeing the movie?

You can add interrogative pronouns or interrogative adverbs (e.g., “why,” “who,” “how”) before “had” to ask more detailed questions about past actions or events that happened before a particular point in the past.

Examples: Past perfect questions

Where had he worked before joining the company?

Why had she booked the tickets before they agreed to go?

Past perfect exercises

Test your understanding of the past perfect tense with these exercise questions.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Common mistakes

Commonly confused words

Rhetoric

Whoa or woah

Advisor vs adviser

Metonymy

Theirs or their's

Accept vs except

Synecdoche

Ours or our's

Affect vs effect

Verbal irony

Forty or fourty

Among vs between

Irony

Sence or sense

Anymore vs any more

Grawlix


Frequently asked questions about the past perfect

What is the past perfect continuous?

The past perfect continuous is a past tense verb form used to describe actions that started in the past and continued until another point in the past. For example, “she had been running for an hour and was feeling exhausted.”

To form the past perfect continuous, place the auxiliary verbs “had” and “been” before the present participle (the “-ing” form) of the main verb (e.g., “They had been cooking”).

There are three other past tense forms: the simple past, past continuous (aka past progressive), and past perfect.

What is the past perfect form of “go”?

The past perfect tense is used for verbs describing past actions that took place before another past action or up to a certain point in the past.

To form the past perfect tense, place the auxiliary verb “had” before the past participle of the main verb.

The past participle of “go” is “gone,” and the past perfect form of “go” is “had gone” (e.g., “he had gone”).

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Sophie Shores

Sophie has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Publishing, and a passion for great writing. She’s taught English overseas and has experience editing both business and academic writing.

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