Grammar Time: the Past Perfect Tense

Let’s learn when we use the Past Perfect Tense.

Level A2

The Past Perfect Simple = had + V3 (past participle)

We make the Past Perfect with had/hadn’t + past participle: -ed for regular verbs and the third column for the irregular verbs.

  • I hadn’t been there before.
  • She had never worked.
  • He had done his homework before mum came home.
  • You had worked there before you moved to London.

The Past Perfect is the same for all persons.

We can contract had to ‘d.

  • I called him, but he‘d gone to the meeting.

The Past Perfect is a verb tense used to talk about actions that were completed before a certain point in the past.

  • She’d published her first poem by the time she was eight. 
  • We’d finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain.
  • Had the parcel arrived when you called yesterday?
  • You had returned home by 8 o’clock yesterday.

The Past Perfect Tense is used for complete past actions which had visible result in the past.

  • She was wet because she had left her umbrella at home.

The Past Perfect Tense is used to show the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action:

  • When the police arrived, the thief had escaped.
  • Yesterday my mum told me that she had seen you in the park.

The Past Perfect Tense signal words:

  • by 3 p. m. yesterday
  • by Monday
  • by the time you came
  • by the time dinner was ready
  • before
  • after
  • as soon as, etc.
  • He said + Past Perfect (past event : Sequence of Tenses)

Past Perfect or Past Simple?

If there’s only a single event, we don’t use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago.

  • The Romans spoke Latin. (NOT The Romans had spoken Latin.)

We use the Past Simple to describe a series of past events in chronological order, and we use the Past Perfect to make clear that one of the events happened before. Compare these two sentences:

  • When I arrived, she left. (= She left after I arrived.)
  • When I arrived, she had left. (= She left before I arrived.)

The Contraction ‘d

The contraction ‘d can be had or would. Remember that we use an infinitive form after would and a past participle after had.

  • I‘d love to go to your birthday party. (=would)
  • I noticed that he‘d eaten my cake. (= had)

Have pratice using the Past Perfect Tense

Exerise 1. Complete the sentences with the past perfect form of the verbs in brackets.

  1. Tom ___________ (take) his bike apart and was trying to fix it.
  2. She took out a letter which she ___________ (keep) in a drawer for years.
  3. I was cross when the computer suddenly switched off, because I ___________ (not save) my document.
  4. He couldn’t move back to London because he ___________ (sell) his flat there.
  5. Lisa ___________ (imagine) opening her own design shop many times before she finally did it.
  6. The building ___________ (be) a dance studio before she bought it six months ago.
  7. Hundreds of people came to the opening, and many said that they  ___________ (not hear) of Lisa before.
  8. After dad ___________ (wash) the car, he read the newspaper.
  9. He ___________ (not have) lunch so he was very hungry.
  10. He ___________ (not recharge) his mobile so he couldn’t text me.
  11. She felt tired because she ___________ (go) to bed very late the night before.
  12. We couldn’t drive to Liverpool because our car (break down) ___________ .
  13. I didn’t go to the cinema because I ___________ (see) the film.
  14. Last summer I went to Rome. I ___________ (not visit) Italy before.
  15.  After I ___________ (write) the essay, I gave it to my teacher.

Exercise 2. Use the verbs in brackets in the Past Simple  or the Past Perfect Tense.

  1. When I ___________ (to come) home, mother already ___________ (to cook) dinner.
  2. When father ___________ (to return) from work, we already ___________ (to do) our homework.
  3. When the teacher ___________ (to enter) the classroom, the pupils ___________already ___________ (to open) their books.
  4. Kate ___________ (to give) me the book which she ___________ (to buy) the day before.
  5. Nick ___________ (to show) the teacher the picture which he ___________ (to draw).
  6. The boy ___________ (to give) the goats the grass which he ___________ (to bring) from the field.
  7. Mother ___________ (to see) that Nick ___________ (not to wash) his hands.
  8. The teacher ___________ (to understand) that Lena ___________ (not to do) her homework.
  9. I ___________ (to know) that my friend ___________ (not to come yet).
  10. Tom ___________ (to return) from the cinema at 5 o’clock.
  11. Tom ___________ (to return) from the cinema by 5 o’clock.
  12. I ___________ (to finish) my homework at 7 o’clock.
  13. I ___________ (to finish) my homework by 7 o’clock.
  14. He ___________ (to think) that he ___________ (to lose) the money.
  15. Ann ___________ (to tell) me that she ___________ (to see) an interesting film.
  16. Yesterday I ___________ (to find) the book which I ___________ (to lose) in summer.
  17. When we ___________ (to come) to the station, the train ___________already ___________ (to leave).

Revise the three forms of these irregular verbs:

  • come  came  come
  • bring  brought  brought
  • do  did  done
  • see  saw  seen
  • give  gave  given
  • understand  understood  understood
  • buy  bought  bought
  • know  knew  known
  • show  showed  shown
  • think  thought  thought
  • draw  drew  drawn
  • lose  lost  lost
  • tell  told  told
  • find  found  found
  • leave  left  left

Exercise 3. Rewrite the following sentences using one past perfect verb and one past simple verb.

  1. I bought a ticket, then I checked the numbers. – After I’d bought a ticket, I checked the numbers.
  2. We bought some chicken, then we made dinner. – When _____________________.
  3. My parents went out, then I got home. – When _____________________.
  4. The sun came out, then we arrived at the beach. – After _____________________.
  5. I took my bike apart, then I cleaned every piece. – After _____________________.
  6. It got dark, then we arrived at the hotel. – When _____________________.
  7. I spoke to my dad, then I applied for the job. – After _____________________.
  8. She read the letter, then she began to laugh. – When _____________________.

Exercise 4. Make the positive or negative past perfect simple.

  1. When I arrived at the cinema, the film __________ (start).
  2. She __________ (lived) in China before she went to Thailand.
  3. After they _________ (eat) the shellfish, they began to feel sick.
  4. If you __________ (listen) to me, you would have got the job.
  5. When we __________ (finish) dinner, we went out.
  6. The garden was dead because it __________ (be) dry all summer.
  7. He __________ (meet) her somewhere before.
  8. We were late for the plane because we __________ (forget) our passports.
  9. She told me she __________ (study) a lot before the exam.
  10. The grass was yellow because it __________ (not/rain) all summer.
  11. The lights went off because we __________ (not/pay) the electricity bill.
  12. The children __________ (not/do) their homework, so they were in trouble.
  13. They __________ (not/eat) so they went to a restaurant.
  14. We couldn’t go into the concert because we __________ (not/bring) our tickets.
  15. She said that she __________ (not/visit) the UK before.
  16. Jane and Ann __________ (not/meet) before the party.
  17. I __________ (not/have) breakfast when we arrived.
  18. My grandpa ___________ (not/use) email before, so I showed him how to use it.
  19. You __________ (not/study) for the test, so you were very nervous.