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Verb Tenses: The Past Perfect

Verb Tenses: The Past Perfect

The Past Perfect tense in English is composed of two parts: the past tense of the verb to have (had) + the past participle of the main verb.

Subject, had, past participle
We had decided…

Affirmative
She had given.

Negative
We hadn’t asked.

Interrogative
Had they arrived?

Interrogative negative
Hadn’t you finished?

Example: to decide, Past perfect
Affirmative, Negative, Interrogative
I had decided. I hadn’t decided. Had I decided?
You had decided. You hadn’t decided. Had you decided?
He, she, it had decided. He hadn’t decided. Had she decided?
We had decided. We hadn’t decided. Had we decided?
You had decided. You hadn’t decided. Had you decided?
They had decided. They hadn’t decided. Had they decided?

Past perfect, function
The past perfect refers to a time earlier than before now. It is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past. It does not matter which event is mentioned first – the tense makes it clear which one happened first.
In these examples, Event A is the first or earliest event, Event B is the second or latest event:
Event B, Event B
a.
John had gone out when I arrived in the office.

Event A, Event B
b.
I had saved my document before the computer crashed.

Event A
c.
When they arrived we had already started cooking

Event B, Event A
d.
He was very tired because he hadn’t slept well.

Event B, Event A
Past perfect + just
‘Just’ is used with the past perfect to refer to an event that was only a short time earlier than before now, e.g.
The train had just left when I arrived at the station.
She had just left the room when the police arrived.
I had just put the washing out when it started to rain.

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