Past Perfect Tense – Uses, Examples & Worksheet

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The past perfect tense or pluperfect is one of the 12 verb tenses in the English language. I know, 12 verb tenses? That’s crazy! But I promise, they all have specific uses. Past perfect describes actions that were completed at a specific point in the past.

Let’s discuss the uses of the past perfect tense and its formulas for affirmative, interrogative, and negative sentences. I also provided past perfect tense examples to help you understand the topic.

What is the Past Perfect Tense?

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The past perfect tense is one of the verb tenses in English grammar that refers to a time earlier than before now. Use this verb tense to describe one event that happened before another past event.

There are specific differences between the past perfect tense and other past tenses.

For instance, the simple past tense is used to express something that happened in the past. However, its subtle difference from the past perfect tense is that the past perfect tense shows an action that occurred before other past situations.

Every perfect tense shows an action that is completed at a specific time, a.k.a a perfect action. Here’s a pair of sentences that shows the difference between the two past tenses.

  • Simple past: I cleaned my room yesterday.

Past perfect: My mother was surprised that I had cleaned my room.

Past Perfect Tense Formula

The past perfect verb combination is the auxiliary verb had plus the past participle of the main verb. But there are some points to think about with your choice of structure. That’s because these structures differ according to the sentence type.

Affirmative Form

We use the simple verb combination mentioned above when showing the past perfect form of an affirmative sentence.

  • Subject + had + past participle verb form

Below is an example of a past perfect sentence in the affirmative form.

  • She left before I had discussed my proposal.

Negative Form

Negative sentences always use the word not. Therefore, the verb phrase when discussing a moment of time in the past that was completed at another single event in the past is had not + past participle.

  • Subject + had not + past participle.

For example:

  • I had not discussed my proposal when she left.

Question Form

Question sentences usually start with the auxiliary verb, the subject, and the action verb. Here’s how to form past perfect questions.

  • Had + subject + past participle.

For example:

  • Had Daisy dressed up when Chris left the room?

Passive Voice

When changing active sentences into passive ones, the object becomes the subject of the passive verb.

  • Subject + Had been + past participle

For example:

  • Active: I had eaten all the shrimp when Joey came.

Passive: The shrimp had been eaten by me when Joey came.

When to Use the Past Perfect Tense

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The simplest use of the past perfect tense is to show two connected actions in the past. This verb tense shows the earlier action or aforementioned action in two past actions. Meanwhile, the later action uses the simple past tense. For example:

  • Mylene had been sick when the doctor arrived.

This sentence somehow shows a sequence of actions. The previous action, which is Mylene being sick, is expressed in the past perfect action. Meanwhile, the doctor’s arrival is the later and shorter action shown in the simple past tense

Mylene had been sick is also a statement that includes a non-continuous verb. Non-continuous verbs and mixed verbs in this tense show something that started in the past and continued.

You can also use this verb tense with the word before when denoting an action that was not finished when the simple action occurred. For example:

  • Lisa left before Luis had tried to talk to her.

Use past perfect in reported speech after verbs, such as said, told, thought, and asked. For example:

  • He said that the man had left.

Don’t use the past perfect tense when describing a sequence of events. For instance, if someone asks you what you did after sketching someone’s face, would you say, “I had outlined the sketch.”? We also don’t use this verb tense in imaginative sentences.

Wrapping it All Up

My guide has shown you the uses, basic structure, and examples of the past perfect tense. This verb tense describes past events in time that were completed before another past event. Do you feel better about using this verb tense now?

Use the past perfect tense to talk about actions that occurred in the past until another particular time in the past. Do not use this verb tense in a future situation, direct sequences of events, current situation, or when simply describing a past event.