Past Perfect Tense. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.

Quick Past Perfect Tense study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.

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How to use the past perfect tense in English

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Suzy says:

 

The past perfect tense is used when you want to talk about something that happened in the past, before another action in the past. For example, “I had not finished reading before I fell asleep.”

Here’s a few more examples:

- I had never forgotten a homework assignment before today.
- He had never seen snow before his trip to Canada.
- Mary had eaten pizza for many years until she read that it is high in fat.
- We had heard people talking about the movie for three days before we finally went to the cinema last weekend.

 


 

Your English lesson about the Past Perfect Tense

 

Welcome to the Past Perfect lesson! In this lesson, we will cover many of the uses of the past perfect tense. The past perfect tense is relatively easy to construct, but it can be difficult to understand when to use the simple past and when to use the past perfect. 
 
First, the past perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.
 
The standard way to form the past perfect is as follows:
[subject + had + past participle]
He had never seen snow before his trip to Canada.

The negative form is:
[subject + had + not + past participle]
I had not finished reading before I fell asleep.

The question form is:
[had + subject + past participle]
Had you baked a cake before our cooking class?

Examples:
 
He had never seen snow before his trip to Canada.
I had eaten a hamburger before I arrived at their house.
She had tried sushi a few times before she visited Japan.
I had never forgotten a homework assignment before today.
Had you baked a cake before our cooking class?
I had not finished reading before I fell asleep.

 

More past perfect tense exercises


The second use of the past perfect tense is to express the duration of a continuous action before another event in the past.
 
Examples:
 
I had practiced the new piano song for 3 days before I realized that I was playing the wrong notes.
Mary had eaten pizza for many years until she read that it is high in fat.
We had heard people talking about the movie for three days before we finally went to the cinema last weekend.
James had thought about quitting his job for many months before he finally resigned from his position.
 

Note: 
If the past perfect action occurred at a specific time, the simple past can also be used. For example, when "before" or "after" is used in the sentence. The words "before" and "after" actually tell you what happens first, so the past perfect is optional. For this reason, both sentences below are correct.
 
We had been to Canada in 2005 before we moved to Montreal in 2008.
We went to Canada in 2005 before we moved to Montreal in 2008.
 
However, if the speaker is not referring to an action at a specific time, the past perfect tense must be used. We can’t use the simple past in these situations. Look at  the example below.
 
We never ate French food before we moved to Montreal. Not Correct
We had never eaten French food before we moved to Montreal. Correct
 
Here the speaker is referring to a lack of experience rather than an action at a specific time. For this reason, simple past cannot be used.
 


It’s story time
 
Now that we’ve learned about the past perfect tense, let’s see how this is used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the past perfect is used.
 
Laura couldn’t understand why her English grades were lower than her friends’ grades. She had studied carefully for many days before the test. In fact, she had started studying at an English tutoring school when she turned 4 years old. Her friends had begun to attend tutoring school when they were about 6, but she felt that they had passed her skill level years ago.
 
Laura had started to notice this when she was in grade three. Now, in grade six, she had struggled to accept this fact for many years until the results of the test were published. 
 
Her friend Jenny hadn’t started studying English until she was 9 years old, but Jenny could speak with foreign people in Beijing without any problems. In contrast, when Laura tried to speak with a tourist last week, the tourist couldn’t understand what she was saying. It had been an embarrassing moment until a young business man stopped to help.
 
Laura had not wanted to talk to her parents about this until she saw these recent test results. She was worried that they would be angry with her, but she realized that while they might be a little angry at first, they would try to help her in any way they could.

That’s the end of the lesson on the past perfect tense.

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