The Past Perfect

When do we need the Past Perfect?

This tense is used less than 5% of the time - so don't overuse it! When we do use it, it is:

  • for a past action which was over before another past action began
    • When we talk about something that happened in the past we can use the Past Perfect to say that something had already happened before this time. e.g. "After I had lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years I moved to Seattle." First I lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years and then I moved to Seattle.
  • to show that one action happened earlier than others
    • I finished the report last night because I had promised my boss I would.
  • as the past of the Present Perfect.
    • Present Perfect: The report is overdue. I haven't worked on it in days.
    • Past Perfect: The report was overdue. I hadn't worked on it in days.
  • for indirect speech
    • For the Past Simple: "I worked on the report all night" = She said she had worked on the report all night
    • For the Present Perfect: "I have worked on the report all week." = She said she had worked on the report all week.
  • in Conditionals
    • e.g. If she had worked on the report all night it would be finished by now.

Diagram

Return to top of page

General Overview

When do I use this tense?

Used for:

- actions that had been finished before other actions or definite times in the past.

- expressing the Present Perfect in the past

- indirect speech

- Conditionals

How do I make the tense?

The Past Perfect is formed with the helping verb had and the third form of the verb.

Which helping verb do I use?

had

Here are examples of:

 

Statements:

  • After I had lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years I moved here.
  • After you had lived in Germany did you move here directly?
  • After he had lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years he moved here.
  • After she had lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years she moved here.
  • After it had stayed in Germany for 5 1/2 years I moved it here.
  • After we had lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years we moved here.
  • After they had lived in Germany for 5 1/2 years they moved here.

Questions:

  • Had I ever lived here before I moved to the area?
  • Had you ever lived here before you moved to the area?
  • Had she ever lived here before she moved to the area?
  • Had he ever lived here before he moved to the area?
  • Had that boat ever been here before it arrived yesterday?
  • Had we ever lived here before we moved to the area??
  • Had they ever lived here before they moved to the area?

Negatives:

  • I had not (hadn’t) lived here before I moved to the area in 1997.
  • You had not (hadn’t) lived here before you moved to the area in 1997.
  • She had not (hadn’t) lived here before she moved to the area in 1997.
  • He had not (hadn’t) lived here before he moved to the area in 1997.
  • It had not (hadn’t) stayed here before it came in 1997.
  • We had not (hadn’t) lived here before we moved to the area in 1997.
  • They had not (hadn’t) lived here before they moved to the area in 1997.

Short answers

  • Yes, I had.
  • Yes, she had.
  • No, I had not.
  • No, I hadn’t
  • No, she had not.
  • No, she hadn’t.