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 , then you can click it!
to base form

( verb)

Select the tenses.

Present Tenses

Simple Present Tense The simple present tense is mostly used to describe facts and habits. More...(opens new tab) I base form you base form he/she/it 3rd pers sing present we base form you base form they base form Present Progressive Tense The present progressive tense is used for an ongoing action in the present. More...(opens new tab) I am present participle you are present participle he/she/it is present participle we are present participle you are present participle they are present participle Present Perfect Tense The present perfect tense is used for actions that began in the past. (Often, the actions continue into the present.) More...(opens new tab) I have past participle you have past participle he/she/it has past participle we have past participle you have past participle they have past participle Present Perfect Progressive Tense The present perfect progressive tense is used for a continuous activity that began in the past and continues into the present, or a continuous activity that began in past but has now finished (usually very recently). More...(opens new tab) I have been present participle you have been present participle he/she/it has been present participle we have been present participle you have been present participle they have been present participle

Past Tenses

Simple Past The simple past tense is used to describe a completed activity that happened in the past. More...(opens new tab) I past tense you past tense he/she/it past tense we past tense you past tense they past tense Past Progressive Tense The past progressive tense is used to describe an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action. More...(opens new tab) I was present participle you were present participle he/she/it was present participle we were present participle you were present participle they were present participle Past Perfect Tense The past perfect tense is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another took place. More...(opens new tab) I had past participle you had past participle he/she/it had past participle we had past participle you had past participle they had past participle Past Perfect Progressive Tense The past perfect progressive tense is used to show that an ongoing action in the past has ended. More...(opens new tab) I had been present participle you had been present participle he/she/it had been present participle we had been present participle you had been present participle they had been present participle

Future Tenses

Simple Future The simple future tense is used for an action that will occur in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will base form you will base form he/she/it will base form we will base form you will base form they will base form Future Progressive Tense The future progressive tense is used for an ongoing action that will occur in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will be present participle you will be present participle he/she/it will be present participle we will be present participle you will be present participle they will be present participle Future Perfect Tense The future perfect tense is used to describe an action that will have been completed at some point in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will have past participle you will have past participle he/she/it will have past participle we will have past participle you will have past participle they will have past participle Future Perfect Progressive Tense The future perfect progressive tense is used for an ongoing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will have been present participle you will have been present participle he/she/it will have been present participle we will have been present participle you will have been present participle they will have been present participle

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