Past Perfect Tense

The Past Perfect Tense is used when we are relating two events which happen in the past, one action occurs before another or an action finishes before another action. The Past Perfect Tense helps to show which event happens first. This tense is also used in reported speech, third conditional sentences, or to show the past dissatisfaction.

The Patterns


Subject+had+V3 (past participle) ——>> I had done ….


Subject+had+not +V3 (past participle) ——>> I had not done ….


Had + Subject +V3 (past participle) —–>> Had you done …?

Time Signal

The time signals usually used with the past perfect tense among others are already, just, never, not yet, once, until that day, by, by the time, when…., etc.


1. Just
Just is used with the Past Perfect to refer to an event that happens only a short time earlier than now.


She had just finished cooking when I arrived home.
The criminal had just left the room when the police came.
I had just left the house when it started to rain.

2. by and by the time

By and by the time mean before.


By 10 p.m, Nina had already finished reading the book.
By the time Nina got home, Jack had already prepared everything.

The Uses

The Past Perfect Tense is used to express:

1. a completed action before another action in the past;

The first use of The Past Perfect Tense is to tell that one action happens before another action in the past. It can also indicate that something happens before a specific time in the past.


She had gone home when I came to the party last night.
I had cooked for lunch when he arrived home yesterday.
He had never been to Tokyo before his father took him there last year.


The English native speakers actually do not frequently use the Past Perfect in such ways.
Pay attention to the following examples:
They will say:
After I finished my work, I went home.
Rather than:
After I had finished my work, I went home.

The use of after or before is meant to tell the listener which action happens first. Yet Past Perfect is better to use especially in written English or when writing an exam.

2. the third conditional sentences and the past subjunctive;

Use the Past Perfect Tense with the third type of conditional sentence and the past subjunctive.


  • If I had gone earlier, I wouldn’t have been late. (the third conditional sentence)
  • If you had studied harder, you wouldn’t have failed in the test. (the third conditional sentence)
  • I wish I had finished my work (but I didn’t). (the past subjunctive)
  • I would rather you had gone away from me (but you didn’t). (the past subjunctive)
  • She looked as if he hadn’t been unhappy. (the past subjunctive)
  • The greedy boy looked as though she had never eaten for several days. (the past subjunctive)

3. Dissatisfaction in the past;

Actually this function is in line with the use no 2 that the past dissatisfaction is expressed with the past perfect tense. Such sentences are usually started with I wish or If only.


  • I wish I had refused his love. I regret it now.
  • If only I hadn’t come to this place.

4. Reported speech.
Use the Past Perfect with reported/indirect speech.


  • John said that he had already written three novels.
  • My boss asked if I had finished typing the proposal.

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Filed under: English Course (Grammar)

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