Past Perfect Tense

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Past Perfect Tense? (with Examples)

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.

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.

Infographic for the Past Perfect Tense

past perfect tense
The tables below show all 12 tenses so you can see the past perfect tense among the other tenses. (You can change the verb by clicking one of the green buttons.)

Top 10 Regular Verbs

Top 10 Irregular Verbs

All 4 Past Tenses

PersonSimple PastPast Progressive TensePast Perfect TensePast Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
  • past tense
The simple past tense is for a completed activity that happened in the past.
  • was present participle
  • were present participle
  • was present participle
  • were present participle
  • were present participle
  • were present participle
The past progressive tense is for an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
  • had past participle
The past perfect tense is for emphasizing that an action was completed before another took place.
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
  • had been present participle
The past perfect progressive tense is for showing that an ongoing action in the past has ended.

All 4 Present Tenses

PersonSimple PresentPresent Progressive TensePresent Perfect TensePresent Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • base form
  • base form
  • 3rd pers sing present
  • base form
  • base form
  • base form
The simple present tense is mostly for a fact or a habit.
  • am present participle
  • are present participle
  • is present participle
  • are present participle
  • are present participle
  • are present participle
The present progressive tense is for an ongoing action in the present.
  • have past participle
  • have past participle
  • has past participle
  • have past participle
  • have past participle
  • have past participle
The present perfect tense is for an action that began in the past. (Often, the action continues into the present.)
  • have been present participle
  • have been present participle
  • has been present participle
  • have been present participle
  • have been present participle
  • have been present participle
The present perfect progressive tense is for a continuous activity that began in the past and continues into the present (or finished very recently).

All 4 Future Tenses

PersonSimple FutureFuture Progressive TenseFuture Perfect TenseFuture Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
  • will base form
The simple future tense is for an action that will occur in the future.
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
  • will be present participle
The future progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will occur in the future.
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
  • will have past participle
The future perfect tense is for an action that will have been completed at some point in the future.
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
  • will have been present participle
The future perfect progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future.

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

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See Also

Take a test on the past perfect tense See all the tenses What is a verb phrase? 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

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