The past perfect tense is another complex topic for English learners. One of the most complicated things when trying to apply is not to mess with our own words. However, it is another critical step you need to take when planning to master the English language. That’s why, in our generosity (and humbleness, too), we have decided to create this easy-to-follow guide to explain it to you.
Struggling with tenses is a popular (and despicable) activity among English learners. And the past perfect tense is a strong rival when learning this language. If you are having trouble understanding how to use this tense or want to know how to use it in a better way, keep on reading. You won’t regret it!
In English, we use the past perfect tense to talk about the past before the past. What? Yes, don’t read that sentence again. That’s the main application we give to the past perfect tense. Maybe my short definition was not good enough. Let’s try this out:
Take a look at this timeline. If we had to explain this situation, how would you say it? No, I don’t mean that Inmersivo may start looking for someone who can draw nice. Check the events in this -perfectly designed- picture. There are various ways to enumerate and describe them.
On the one hand, we can use the past simple for both events:
I ate a hamburger 3 hours ago. An hour later, I wasn’t hungry for dinner.
This example is not wrong. It’s grammatically correct. It uses the past simple in chronological order and explains, in a way, why I wasn’t hungry for dinner two hours ago. But which event would you say is emphasized over the other? That’s right—none of them.
However, we can emphasize one action over the other by applying the past perfect tense to this sequence of events. Thus, we can focus on one of them, in this case, not being hungry for dinner. Eating a hamburger can then become a clause explaining the reason why it happened. Difficult to say, but very easy to do. Take a look at this example:
I wasn’t hungry for dinner because I had eaten a hamburger an hour before.
Not being hungry for dinner is in the simple past tense. And I ate a hamburger before that happened. That “the past before the past” phrase doesn’t look that odd now, does it? When referring to an event before our past reference, we use the past perfect tense. Let’s take a look at other uses for it.
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Using the past perfect tense properly means knowing how to construct a sentence with its structure correctly and knowing when to apply it. To do so, we need to know the functions of the tense. In that way, we can recur to it when the situation demands it. So, when do we use the past perfect tense?
It had snowed for a whole week, and they couldn’t play the match yesterday.
Lionel Messi had played for Barcelona for over 20 years when he signed for PSG.
I wish I hadn’t eaten that sixth slice of pizza. (I did, so the event is unreal)
If I had known you were coming, I would have tidied the house a bit! (I had no idea you were coming)
On the other hand, constructing a sentence in the past perfect is not very complex. The auxiliary had is present in all three forms -affirmative, negative, and interrogative. Moreover, we always use the main verb in the past participle. Let’s take a look at the structure of a sentence using the past perfect tense.
Subject + Had + Past Participle + Rest of sentence
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To sum up, the past perfect tense is a helpful tool when expressing ourselves in English. It gives the idea of time reference more clearly than just enumerating events, and it helps us talk about unreal events in the past. Remember to practice your English daily to get closer to your goal of mastering the language. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive more content like this and follow us on our social media to participate in fun English exercises. Thanks for reading, see you next time!