English Corner – Past Perfect Tense

Now that we’ve gone over the present perfect tense with the last post, let’s go back into the past. I’m going to cover the how, when, and why’s of when we use the past perfect tense and how to do so with the correct form and usage. While not the most well know or often used grammatical tense, by improving your knowledge and understanding of the ‘past perfect tense’, you’ll be able to take your English proficiency to new heights. Remember this blog post in the future because it may help you for years to come.

The past perfect tense goes deeper than other past tenses in that you’re going to be referring to two separate yet interrelated events that occurred at some point in the past but at different times and places. The past perfect tense, like other past tenses, refers to an action, event, or thing that took place at a time earlier than now or in the present. The past perfect tense goes further in that it connects two events in the past and ties them together because they are somehow interrelated to some degree. This grammar tense refers to one past event happening before the other event and it’s usually clear which event happened first and which event happened second.

When it comes to the past perfect tense, the first event will be mentioned at the beginning of the sentence and then the second event will be mentioned towards the end of the same sentence and is noted as having happened after the first event.

Examples

  1. Alex had gone out to eat dinner when his phone rang suddenly.
  2. When they had arrived to the birthday party, the cake was already being eaten.
  3. She was already exhausted at 10 o’clock that night because she had studied for the Chemistry exam all day.
  4. You had finished the 5K race when I was just getting started.

Forming the past perfect tense for usage in sentences is quite simple. There is always going to be two parts to forming this particular grammar tense that you should be aware of. Firstly, you’re going to use the verb ‘to have’ in the past tense form, which would change into the word had. Right after the word ‘had’, you’re going to add the past participle of the main verb to be used in the heart of the sentence.

As listed in the examples above, the ‘had + past participle’ combination should come one right after the other to form the past perfect grammar tense. You can use verbs like started, studied, finished, danced, etc. to go along with the past tense form of ‘to have.’ There are only some slight changes to be made to the past perfect tense when it comes to the negative or question form of this grammatical tense. I’ll also use another example of the ‘positive’ form of the past perfect tense to compare the three versions together.

Example – Positive

  1. I had realized my mistake in the equation but it was too late to change.

Example – Negative

  1. John hadn’t thought that it was a big deal to skip the gym this week.

Example – Question

  1. Had they worked hard enough to earn the Nobel Peace Prize? (+)
  2. Hadn’t you sung before with the city choir before tonight’s performance? (-)

It’s quite common when it comes to the negative form of the ‘past perfect tense’ to contract ‘had not’ into ‘hadn’t’ to express it. It’s not obligatory to contract the negative form of the verb ‘to have’ but it’s quite common to use especially if the sentence is informal in nature. In the negative question form of the ‘past perfect tense’, you can also be free to contract the ‘to have’ verb if you feel that it is necessary although it is not mandatory to do.

The word ‘had’, positive or negative form, will always go at the beginning of the sentence if it is in the form of a question for the past perfect tense. While that’s a lot to keep in mind, if you follow the examples listed above for positive, negative, and question form, you’ll be able to catch on quickly in terms of the structure and usage of the past perfect tense.

The last thing to keep in mind is that similar to the ‘present perfect tense’, the past perfect tense also makes usage of the word ‘just’ to describe events that ‘just’ happened in the past recently and could be used to relate to another event in the same sentence.

Examples

  1. I just had put on some coffee when my friend arrived to the house.
  2. The airplane had just departed when I came to the airport gate.

The past perfect tense can be used under a specific circumstance and it can be quite valuable to master when describing multiple events that occurred recently. When it comes to a historical timeline to study or errands that your close friend ran during the day that he wants to tell you about, a working knowledge of the past perfect tense in English could help you in a number of ways. By understanding the structure, the forms, and the usage of this grammatical tense, you should be able to pick it up yourself to be used in polite conversation or for your next story.

 

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