What Is the Past Perfect Tense? (with Examples)

What Is the Past Perfect Tense? (with Examples)

The past perfect tense is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another took place.

Examples of the Past Perfect Tense

Here are some 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.)
Of course, you can also have the negative version, which is formed "had not" + "[past particple]":
  • 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.

And the question versions:
  • Had Silverfinger taken the pill before the team reached him?
  • Had the team planned its next move before the weather changed?

Infographic for the Past Perfect Tense

Here is an infographic explaining the past perfect tense:

past perfect tense

Forming the Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is formed:

had + [the past participle]

For example:
  • 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).

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. They are:

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
Interactive Test
 

See Also

Take a test on the past perfect tense Tenses Simple past tense Past progressive tense Past perfect 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