e.g. She had heard the news before I saw her.
I had finished my work by the time the clock struck twelve.
In the preceding examples, the verbs had heard and had finished are in the Past Perfect tense, and the verbs saw and struck are in the Simple Past. The use of the Past Perfect tense indicates that the actions of hearing the news and finishing the work were already completed by the time the actions expressed by the verbs in the Simple Past took place.
The structure of the past perfect tense is:
|subject||+||auxiliary verb HAVE||+||main verb|
|conjugated in simple past tense||past participle|
For negative sentences in the past perfect tense, we insert not between the auxiliary verb and main verb. For question sentences, we exchange the subject and auxiliary verb. Look at these example sentences with the past perfect tense:
|subject||auxiliary verb||main verb|
When speaking with the past perfect tense, we often contract the subject and auxiliary verb:
The past perfect tense expresses action in the past before another action in the past. This is the past in the past. For example:
- The train left at 9am. We arrived at 9.15am. When we arrived, the train had left.
|The train had left when we arrived.|
|Train leaves in past at 9am.|
|We arrive in past at 9.15am.|
Look at some more examples:
- I wasn't hungry. I had just eaten.
- They were hungry. They had not eaten for five hours.
- I didn't know who he was. I had never seen him before.
- "Mary wasn't at home when I arrived."
"Really? Where had she gone?"
You can sometimes think of the past perfect tense like the present perfect tense, but instead of the time being now the time is past.
|past perfect tense||present perfect tense|
For example, imagine that you arrive at the station at 9.15am. The stationmaster says to you:
- "You are too late. The train has left."
Later, you tell your friends:
- "We were too late. The train had left."
We often use the past perfect tense in reported speech after verbs like said, told, asked, thought, wondered:
Look at these examples:
- He told us that the train had left.
- I thought I had met her before, but I was wrong.
- He explained that he had closed the window because of the rain.
- I wondered if I had been there before.
- I asked them why they had not finished.