Grammar 8 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 Does Past Perfect Mean?

Sometimes verbs are confusing when they express timeframes, but past perfect tense 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.”

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

What is the Structure of Past Perfect Tense?

Past perfect tense 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:
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:

Lucy had requested a gluten-free sandwich, but the chef put her turkey on a whole-wheat bun instead.

Lucy is the subject.

Had is 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 had indicated that Lucy ordered her sandwich before receiving the wrong item.

Writers don’t always use had at the beginning of a sentence. However, past perfect tense 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 John had already found a 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 had appears 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).

Juan had just walked in 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 perfect tense.

Jill had gotten sick from eating expired cupcakes.
Thomas had gotten on his supervisor’s bad side after questioning her authority.
Kara wished she had won the raffle at the picnic.
Laverne had founded her company before the pandemic’s rigid guidelines.
He had trouble sleeping yesterday 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?

Someone had stolen my package.
(Past Simple) Someone stole my package.
(Past Perfect ) I called the police because I noticed someone had stolen my 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 and Past Perfect?

Past and past perfect both describe events that happened at a previous time. However, past simple (sometimes just called past) doesn’t use the word had. That’s because the past simple describes a single event, while past perfect conveys a sequence of events.

Past Simple:

He bought fast food for breakfast yesterday.
She tried on the dress at the store.
Marco visited his cousin at work.
Shauna ordered pizza for lunch.

Past Perfect:

The fridge was empty even though she had just gone grocery shopping on Monday.
He had spent hours studying for the exam but still failed.
Lena’s boss had warned her not to leave early, but Lena still went home before lunch.
Alan was surprised by how fashionable the glasses he had ordered online were.
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 not between the word had and your past participle. Use the formula had + not + past participle.

The neighbors had not noticed anything suspicious the day my package went missing.
Arnold was frustrated because his mother still had not accepted responsibility for her actions.
Julie had not expressed her 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
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
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

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
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

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
Correct! Oops! That's incorrect.

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! Oops! That's incorrect.

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! Oops! That's incorrect.

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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Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

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