Past Perfect Tense


    This chapter focuses on material for advanced students


    The Past Perfect tense is often feared by students. Whilst it is true that it’s one of the more complicated tenses, it’s not that tricky. This chapter examines the Past Perfect Simple and the Past Perfect Continuous. Let’s first look at how they are formed and then the situations in which we use them.

    1 Past perfect simple

    The Past Perfect Simple expresses what happened before the past event – hence the name Past Perfect. Therefore, this tense rarely occurs without the context:

    • After I had bought the gift, I went to the party.
      • How do we know which part of a sentence the Past Perfect Simple will be in? It is in the one where the first event happened. Something happened in the past (I went to the party – Past tense), but BEFORE that I was doing something (I had bought a gift – Past Perfect).

    But before we talk in more detail about the situations in which we use this tense, let’s explain how it is formed.

    1.1 Forming the Past Perfect Simple

    What do we need to form the Past Perfect Simple?
    subject + auxiliary verb HAD + regular verb with -ed / 3. form of irregular verb

    Positive form  
    • The negative of the Past Perfect Simple is formed by adding NOT to the auxiliary verb HAD (I had not exercised.) HAD
      (I had not exercised.)
    • The short form is HADN‘T (I hadn‘t exercised.)
    Negative form   
    • When forming a question, we just switch the subject of the sentence with the auxiliary verb HAD

    1.2 Use of Past Perfect Simple

    When do we use the Past Perfect Simple?
    When something had happened before a certain moment in the past

    • After I had examined the patient, I recommended more exercise.
      • As can be seen from the sentence, the doctor first examined the patient and then recommended more movement.
    • Because she hadn´t brought her purse, she had to go home to get it.
      • As we can see from the sentence, firstly, she left her purse at home and then had to return for it.
    • Had you done your homework before you went to the cinema?
        • Here, for example, is a mother who makes sure that her son did his homework and then went to the cinema.

    1.3 Vocabulary related to Past Perfect Simple

    The Past Perfect Simple is characterized by the frequent use of the following adverbs:

    Both of these adverbs can be placed at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle:

        • When I had finished cooking, I called my friend.
        • I called my friend after I had finished cooking.

    The adverb BEFORE can be placed at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle.

        • Before I went to lunch, I had had an interview.
        • I had had an interview before I went to lunch.

    In the case that an event took place at a particular time, the Past Perfect Simple is not a rerequisite and we can use the Past Simple tense. The same is true for the adverb AFTER. Therefore, both of these options are possible:

        • I had seen them only once in 2015 before I went on a road trip with them in 2017.
        • I saw them only once in 2015 before I went on a road trip with them in 2017.

    However, if it is not an event occurring at a particular time, we need to use the Ppat Perfect Simple. In the following sentence we see that this is not an event, but an experience:

        • I had worked for several companies before I started working for you.
          • Not: I worked for several companies before I started working for you.


    We use the conjunction BECAUSE for so-called reason sentences. The subordinate clause is in the Past Perfect Simple if we want to express that it had happened before a certain moment in the past. Again, we can place it at the beginning of the sentence or in the middle:

        • Because I hadn’t studied, I failed the test.
        • I failed the test because I hadn’t studied.


    We often come across related subordinate clauses:

        • The girl, who I had met last summer, called me.
        • The movie which you had recommended to me was really good!


    The Past Perfect also appears with object subordinate sentences:

        • I realized that somebody had broken into our house.

    2 Past Perfect Continuous

    If you have studied the rules about the Past Perfect Simple, the Past Perfect Continuous won’t be so complicated for you. While we can tell by the Past Perfect Simple what had happened at a particular moment in the past, the Past Perfect Continuous serves to tell us what had been happening before a certain moment in the past.

    • He was dirty because he had been playing in the sandbox the whole afternoon.
      • We emphasize the course of this event- so we also add that it took the whole afternoon.

    Before we take a closer look at the situations in which we use this tense, let’s explain how it is formed.

    2.1 Forming the Past Perfect Continuous

    What do we need to form of the Past Perfect Continuous?
    subject + HAD + BEEN + action verb with ending -ING + rest of sentence

    Positive form   
    Ihad beenwaiting.
    Youhad beenwaiting.
    Hehad beenwaiting.
    Shehad beenwaiting.
    Wehad beenwaiting.
    Youhad beenwaiting.
    Theyhad beenwaiting.
    • We create the negative form by putting NOT after HAD (the auxiliary verb)
    • The short form is HADN‘T (You hadn’t been waiting (nečekal jsi)).
    Negative form   
    Ihadn’t beenwaiting.
    Youhadn’t beenwaiting.
    Hehadn’t beenwaiting.
    Shehadn’t beenwaiting.
    Wehadn’t beenwaiting.
    Youhadn’t beenwaiting.
    Theyhadn’t beenwaiting.
    • We form a question by switching the subject with the auxiliary verb HAD
    • The verb BEEN follows the subject:
    HadI beenwaiting?
    Hadyou beenwaiting?
    Hadhe beenwaiting?
    Hadshe beenwaiting?
    Hadwe beenwaiting?
    Hadyou beenwaiting?
    Hadthey beenwaiting?

    2.2 Use of the Past Perfect Continuous

    Now we know how to form the Past Perfect Continuous, we can now look at the situations where we use it:

    We are talking about something that has been going on for some time before a specific point in the past

    • She was exhausted because she had been exercising for two hours.
      • The exercise has lasted for two hours and it made the person exhausted.

    We want to emphasize the duration of a certain event
    We don’t just use only the Past Perfect Continuous with a specific expression of time. We also use it when we want to say that the event took a longer time:

    • Our football match was canceled after an hour due to the bad weather. We had been playing so well though!

      • They had been playing really well (all the time) before the football match was cancelled.

    We are talking about a state that was caused by a certain event

    • He came home completely wet. It had been raining the whole afternoon.
      • He was wet (state) because it had been raining the whole afternoon (event).
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    Vendula Nedělová
    She completed her master's degree at the Faculty of Education, Charles University, specializing in English language, music culture, pedagogy, and social pedagogy. She has many years of experience in language teaching in the Czech Republic, USA, Indonesia and Germany. She works as a methodologist and coordinator of language courses in ONLINE learning, where she leads a team of lecturers and the creation of language courses for more than 137 000 students. Vendula follows the motto: “Learning should be fun, because if we enjoy what we do, then it makes sense”.