Grammar 10 min read

How to use the Past Perfect Perfectly: A Super Easy Guide

Main Past Perfect Takeaways:

  • The past perfect tense is also called the pluperfect.
  • Form the past perfect with the formula had + past participle.
  • Make past perfect negative with the formula had + not + past participle.
  • If you aren’t describing a sequence of events, avoid this tense
  • Past perfect tense helps clarify a timeframe more than simple perfect tense.
  • Use past perfect when describing a point in the past or an event that happened before something else.
  • Use past perfect when expressing a condition, also known as the if-clause.

What is Past Perfect Tense?

Sometimes verbs are confusing when they express timeframes, but past perfecttense or pluperfect gives more clarity. It expresses something that happened at a previous point in time. Ensure your audience understands exactly what happened when with this verb tense. Form Past perfect by combining the past tense of the verb “to have,” with the past participle of the main verb. It often appears with the word “already.”

Past perfect formula:subject + had + past participle =past perfecttense
Alex had already finished his meal by time we had to leave.

What is the Structure of Past Perfect Tense?

Past perfecttense involves a subject, the word had, and the past participle of a verb. Past perfect formula: subject + had + past participle = past perfect tense.

Two boys looking at each other. The curly-haired boy on the left labeled as past participle is thinking: "I had looked." On the right, the other boy labeled as past tense is shown thinking: "I looked."
The past perfect tense of a verb refers to an action that took place before another point in the past.

Let’s break everything down with this pluperfect example:

Lucyhad requesteda gluten-free sandwich, but the chef put her turkey on a whole-wheat bun instead.

Lucyis the subject.

Hadis the past tense version of “to have.”

Requested is the past participle of the verb request.

You can verify this by asking yourself what happened first. Did Lucy order a gluten-free sandwich first, or did the chef give her a whole-wheat bun first?

The word hadindicated that Lucy ordered her sandwich before receiving the wrong item.

Writers don’t always use had at the beginning of a sentence. However, past perfecttense still shows an event that happened before another event.

Here’s another example of pluperfect tense:

John’s ex said she still loved him, but Johnhad already founda new partner.

Tough luck for John’s ex here. This sentence shows John moved on before she confessed her love. This is evident even though hadappears in the second part of the sentence rather than the first.

Where Do We Use Past Perfect?

Use past perfect tense in the part of the sentence that contains the if-clause. This part of the sentence explains the condition. Most of the time, writers use this verb tense to show that it took place before other things happened in the sentence. Past perfect makes this difference clear with “had” (had gone) while the other actions in the sentence use the simple past tense (went).

Juanhad just walkedin the door when the phone rang.
An exhausted young man being told by the train station officer that the train had left early in the morning.
We use past perfect tense when referring to an event that happened at some point in the past.

Take a look at these examples of pluperfect . These examples all follow the formula referenced earlier: subject + had + past participle =past perfecttense.

Jillhad gottensick from eating expired cupcakes.
Thomashad gottenon his supervisor’s bad side after questioning her authority.
Kara wished shehad wonthe raffle at the picnic.
Lavernehad foundedher company before the pandemic’s rigid guidelines.
Hehad trouble sleepingyesterday because he had received some bad news.

When Shouldn’t You Use Past Perfect Tense?

Avoid past perfect tense when you aren’t referencing a sequence of events. Inserting had unnecessarily is a common error people make in written and verbal communication.

Let’s say you came home and discovered someone stole your Amazon package. You stomped over to your neighbor’s house and vented about the situation. What should you say?

Someonehad stolenmy package.
(Past Simple) Someonestolemy package.
(Past Perfect ) I called the police because I noticed someonehad stolenmy package.

You don’t need to include had in your sentence. Unless you’re telling your neighbor what you did before or after you noticed the package was missing.

A girl clutching her belly. She looks sick. In front of her is a cupcake. Text reads: Jill had gotten sick from eating expired cupcakes.
You use “had” plus the past participle of the verb to form the past perfect tense.

What is the Difference Between Past Tense and Past Perfect?

While both past simple and past perfect tenses describe events that happened at a previous time, they have different functions. We use the simple past tense of a verb when describing a single event that happened in the past. For instance:

He bought fast food for breakfast yesterday.
Shetriedon the dress at the store.
Marcovisitedhis cousin at work.
Shaunaorderedpizza for lunch.

We also use simple past to describe past events in the order in which they occurred. See example below:

Ricky got up at eight this morning. He quickly opened his Christmas presents, and then he and his family went to the theme park.

On the other hand, we use the past perfect tense of a verb to sequence events in the past and show which event happened first. Consider the following examples:

The fridge was empty even though shehad just gonegrocery shopping on Monday.
Hehad spenthours studying for the exam but still failed.
Lena’s bosshad warnedher not to leave early, but Lena still went home before lunch.
Alan was surprised by how fashionable the glasses hehad orderedonline were.

In addition, the past simple expresses a stronger connection between the time of two or more events, as opposed to past perfect.

A curly-haired boy holding two placards. First placard reads past perfect, while the other says pluperfect. Additional text reads: The past perfect tense is also known as the pluperfect.
The past perfect tense is also known as the pluperfect.

How Do You Make Past Perfect Negative?

Add notbetween the word hadand your past participle. Use the formula had + not + past participle.

The neighborshad not noticedanything suspicious the day my package went missing.
Arnold was frustrated because his mother stillhad not acceptedresponsibility for her actions.
Juliehad not expressedher feelings clearly via email, so her client called for clarification.

We can’t make your past less confusing, but we can help you describe it with clarity. Remember the tips above, whether you’re using pluperfect, past simple, or past perfect negative.

Past perfect tense. Past perfect tense is formed by adding had to the past participle of a verb. A man holding two placards. Placard on the left reads past perfect, to the right pluperfect. Past perfect vs. simple past. Two boys looking at each other. Boy on the left labeled as past perfect is pointing to the boy labeled as simple past while saying NO "HAD." How to make past perfect negative? Add not between had and past participle.
INK Past Perfect Infographic

Common Regular Verbs in Their Past Perfect, Infinitive, and Negative Forms

Simple Present

abate adjust abduct bag bait calculate call dazzle edit educate fade fail glaze glue halt hammer ignite ignore join joke kiss knit lessen levitate maintain nab nail obtain occupy offend pair pamper parade sacrifice satisfy tangle tarnish unbox validate veil wallow wander yap yelp yield zest zigzag

Simple Past

abated adjusted abducted bagged baited calculated called dazzled edited educated faded failed glazed glued halted hammered ignited ignored joined joked kissed knitted lessened levitated maintained nabbed nailed obtained occupied offended paired pampered paraded sacrificed satisfied tangled tarnished unboxed validated veiled wallowed wandered yapped yelped yielded zested zigzagged

Past Perfect

had abated had adjusted had abducted had bagged had baited had calculated had called had dazzled had edited had educated had faded had failed had glazed had glued had halted had hammered had ignited had ignored had joined had joked had kissed had knitted had lessened had levitated had maintained had nabbed had nailed had obtained had occupied had offended had paired had pampered had paraded had sacrificed had satisfied had tangled had tarnished had unboxed had validated had veiled had wallowed had wandered had yapped had yelped had yielded had zested had zigzagged

Infinitive

to abate to adjust to abduct to bag to bait to calculate to call to dazzle to edit to educate to fade to fail to glaze to glue to halt to hammer to ignite to ignore to join to joke to kiss to knit to lessen to levitate to maintain to nab to nail to obtain to occupy to offend to pair to pamper to parade to sacrifice to satisfy to tangle to tarnish to unbox to validate to veil to wallow to wander to yap to yelp to yield to zest to zigzag

Negative

had not abated had not adjusted had not abducted had not bagged had not baited had not calculated had not called had not dazzled had not edited had not educated had not faded had not failed had not glazed had not glued had not halted had not hammered had not ignited had not ignored had not joined had not joked had not kissed had not knitted had not lessened had not levitated had not maintained had not nabbed had not nailed had not obtained had not occupied had not offended had not paired had not pampered had not paraded had not sacrificed had not satisfied had not tangled had not tarnished had not unboxed had not validated had not veiled had not wallowed had not wandered had not yapped had not yelped had not yielded had not zested had not zigzagged

Common Irregular Verbs in Their Past Perfect, Infinitive, and Negative Forms

Simple Present

awake befall buy behold bend catch creep dealt dig do feed flee forbid go grind hurt hear interweave intertwine keep kneel know leave lie lose make meet misdeal mislead outgrow outsell outspeak partake prebuild rebuild redo seek shake thrive throw unbind undo weep win wring withdraw withhold withstand

Simple Past

awoken befell bought beheld bent caught crept dealt dug did fed fled forbade went ground hurt heard interwove intertwined kept knelt knew left lied lost made met misdealt misled outgrew outsold outspoke partook prebuilt rebuilt redid sought shook thrived threw unbound undid wept won wrung withdrew withheld withstood

Past Perfect

had awoken had befell had bought had beheld had bent had caught had crept had dealt had dug had done had fed had fled had forbade had gone had ground had hurt had heard had interwoven had intertwined had kept had knelt had known had left had lied had lost had made had met had misdealt had misled had outgrew had outsold had outspoken had partaken had prebuilt had rebuilt had redone had sought had shaken had thrived had thrown had unbound had undone had wept had won had wrung had withdrawn had withheld had withstood

Infinitive

to awake to befall to buy to behold to bend to catch to creep to deal to dig to do to feed to flee to forbid to go to grind to hurt to hear to interweave to intertwine to keep to kneel to know to leave to lie to lose to make to meet to misdeal to mislead to outgrow to outsell to outspeak to partake to prebuild to rebuild to redo to seek to shake to thrive to throw to unbind to undo to weep to win to wring to withdraw to withhold to withstand

Negative

had not awoken had not befell had not bought had not beheld had not bent had not caught had not crept had not dealt had not dug had not done had not fed had not fled had not forbade had not gone had not ground had not hurt had not heard had not interwoven had not intertwined had not kept had not knelt had not known had not left had not lied had not lost had not made had not met had not misdealt had not misled had not outgrew had not outsold had not outspoken had not partaken had not prebuilt had not rebuilt had not redone had not sought had not shaken had not thrived had not thrown had not unbound had not undone had not wept had not won had not wrung had not withdrawn had not withheld had not withstood

Quick Pluperfect Quiz to Test Your Knowledge

Past Perfect Tense Question #1

Which sentence is the correct past perfect form of "I do the laundry"?
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is C. The formula for creating a past perfect is subject + had + past participle.

Past Perfect Tense Question #2

Which sentence is the correct past perfect form of "We visit Berlin"?
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is A. The formula for creating a past perfect is subject + had + past participle.

Past Perfect Tense Question #3

The past tense of the verb "to have" is required to form a past perfect tense.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is TRUE. To form a past perfect, combine the past tense of the verb "to have," which is had, with the past participle of the main verb.

Past Perfect Tense Question #4

Which word is correct? When I got home, the children had already____ to bed.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is GONE. The past perfect describes an action that took place before another action in the past.

Past Perfect Tense Question #5

Which word is correct? We ___ been out long when it started to rain.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is HADN'T. Make a past perfect negative by adding not between the had and the past participle been.

Past Perfect Quiz Result
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Read More: How to use not Only… but Also in a Sentence

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Pam Weber

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, Writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

Comments (6)
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  1. Ana Elias December 19 at 5:33 am GMT
    It was so great this information helps a la especially when we are learning another lenguaje
    • Krista Grace Morris December 20 at 9:41 am GMT
      Thank you, Ana! I agree, learning a language is challenge, and we’re happy we can be a positive part of your journey. Thank you again for your beautiful comment!
  2. Ezaz Khan March 13 at 8:34 am GMT
    Thank you very good idia,all tenses you will share.im follow of you
    • Rechelle Ann Fuertes March 16 at 12:09 pm GMT
      Hello Ezaz! Thank you for reading! We also have an article about verb tenses that you might find helpful as well. Please do check it out. Again, thank you for stopping by and take care!
  3. ernesto vicente May 22 at 4:40 am GMT
    This was very usefull for me I learned new things in a easy way, thank you.
    • Rechelle Ann Fuertes May 26 at 7:48 am GMT
      Hello Ernesto! Thank you for the positive feedback. We’re glad that you found our article helpful. Have a great day!
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