What Is the Past Perfect Tense? (with Examples)

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Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense describes a completed activity in the past. It is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another action took place. For example:
  • John had baked a cake before you arrived.
  • They had painted the fence before I had a chance to speak to them.

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing the past perfect tense:

Infographic for the Past Perfect Tense

Here is an infographic explaining the past perfect tense:

past perfect tense

More Examples of the Past Perfect Tense

Here are some more examples of the past perfect tense (shaded):
  • Silverfinger had taken the pill before the team reached him.
  • (First: He took the pill. Next: The team reached him.)
  • I had called the police before I investigated the noise in the garden.
  • (First: I called the police. Next: I investigated the noise.)
  • The weather changed, but the team had planned its next move.
  • (First: The team planned. Next: The weather changed.)

Forming the Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is formed:
"had"
+
[past participle]
  • I had jumped
  • I had met

Forming the Past Participle (Regular Verbs)

If it's a regular verb, the past participle is the same as the simple past tense. In other words, it is formed like this:

Add "ed" to most verbs:
  • jump > jumped
  • paint > painted

If a verb of one syllable ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], double the final consonant and add "ed":
  • chat > chatted
  • stop > stopped

If the final consonant is "w," "x" or "y," don't double it:
  • sew > sewed
  • play > played
  • fix > fixed

If last syllable of a longer verb is stressed and ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], double the last consonant and add "ed":
  • incur > incurred
  • prefer > preferred

If the first syllable of a longer verb is stressed and the verb ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], just add "ed":
  • open > opened
  • enter > entered
  • swallow > swallowed

If the verb ends "e," just add "d":
  • thrive > thrived
  • guzzle > guzzled

If the verb ends [consonant + "y"], change the "y" to an "i" and add "ed":
  • cry > cried
  • fry > fried

Forming the Past Participle (Irregular Verbs)

If it's an irregular verb, the past participle is formed in all sorts of different ways. Here are some examples:
  • arise > arisen
  • catch > caught
  • choose > chosen
  • know > known

You just have to learn them.

Read more about irregular verbs (includes a list of the most common irregular verbs).

The Negative Version

If you need the negative version, you can use the following construction:
"had not"
+
[past participle]
  • Silverfinger had not taken the pill before the team reached him.
  • I had not called the police before I investigated the noise in the garden.
  • The weather changed, and the team had not planned its next move.
Remember that "had not" is sometimes written as the contraction "hadn't."

The Question Version

If you need to ask a question, you can use the following word order for a yes/no question:
"had"
+
[subject]
+
[past participle]
  • Had Silverfinger taken the pill before the team reached him?
  • Had the team planned its next move before the weather changed?
You can use the following word order for a question-word question:
[question word]
+
"had"
+
[subject]
+
[past participle]
  • Why had Silverfinger taken the pill before the team reached him?
  • Where had the team planned its next move before the weather changed?

Using Contractions

Don't forget that in speech and writing (especially informal writing), you will encounter the following contractions:
  • I had > I'd
  • You had > You'd
  • He had > He'd
  • She had > She'd
  • It had > It'd
  • We had > We'd
  • They had > They'd
Also, for the negative version, you will commonly see "hadn't" instead of "had not."

Read more about contractions.

Verb Tense Widget

Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , you can click it!

The Other Past Tenses

The past perfect tense is one of four past tenses. This table shows all four of the past tenses:
The 4 Past Tenses Example
simple past tense I went
past progressive tense I was going
past perfect tense I had gone
past perfect progressive tense I had been going

Slider Showing All the Tenses

The following slider shows all 12 tenses. The past perfect tense is highlighted with a yellow background.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Take a test on the past perfect tense Tenses Simple past tense Past progressive tense Past perfect progressive tense Simple present tense Present progressive tense Present perfect tense Present perfect progressive tense Simple future tense Future progressive tense Future perfect tense Future perfect progressive tense