Past Perfect Tense – Websteach


Past Perfect Tense

I had sung

The past perfect tense is quite an easy tense to understand and to use. This tense talks about the “past in the past”.

In this lesson we look at:

How do we make the Past Perfect Tense?

The structure of the past perfect tense is:

Subject + Auxiliary Verb HAVE + Main Verb
conjugated in simple past tense past participle
had V3

For negative sentences in the past perfect tense, we insert not between the auxiliary verb and main verb. For question sentences, we exchange the subject and auxiliary verb. Look at these example sentences with the past perfect tense:

Subject Auxiliary Verb   Main Verb  
POSITIVE I had finished my work.
You had stopped before me.
NEGATIVE She had not gone to school.
We had not left.
QUESTIONS Had you arrived?
Had they eaten dinner?

When speaking with the past perfect tense, we often contract the subject and auxiliary verb:

I had I’d
you had you’d
he had he’d
she had she’d
it had it’d
we had we’d
they had they’d

The ‘d contraction is also used for the auxiliary verb would.

For example, we’d can mean:

  • We had


  • We would

But usually the main verb is in a different form, for example:

  • We had arrived (past participle)
  • We would arrive (base)

It is always clear from the context.

How do we use the Past Perfect Tense?

The past perfect tense expresses action in the past before another action in the past. This is the past in the past. For example:

  • The train left at 9am. We arrived at 9.15am. When we arrived, the train had left.
           The train had left when we arrived.
past present future
Train leaves in past at 9am.
We arrive in past at 9.15am.

Look at some more examples:

  • I wasn’t hungry. I had just eaten.
  • They were hungry. They had not eaten for five hours.
  • I didn’t know who he was. I had never seen him before.
  • “Mary wasn’t at home when I arrived.”

“Really? Where had she gone?”

You can sometimes think of the past perfect tense like the present perfect tense, but instead of the time being now the time is past.

past perfect tense                          present perfect tense

had|                                                                     have|

done|                                                                      done|

> |                                                                           >|

past           now            future       past            now            future

For example, imagine that you arrive at the station at 9.15am. The stationmaster says to you:

  • “You are too late. The train has left.”

Later, you tell your friends:


  • “We were too late. The train had left.”

We often use the past perfect tense in reported speech after verbs like said, told, asked, thought, wondered:

Look at these examples:

  • He told us that the train had left.
  • I thought I had met her before, but I was wrong.
  • He explained that he had closed the window because of the rain.
  • I wondered if I had been there before.
  • I asked them why they had not finished.


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