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The Past Perfect Simple Tense

Useful Tip

Time Expressions in the Past Perfect Simple

The time expressions already, for, since, and yet may be used in the past perfect simple, as they are in the present perfect simple. Remember the following rules for using other time expressions:

  • Use after, as soon as, the moment that, until before using the past perfect simple.
    Ex: After she had moved out, I found her notes./ I didn’t say anything until she had finished talking.
  • Use before, when, by the time before the past simple:
    Ex. Before I knew it, she had run out the door. / By the time he phoned her, she had found someone new.

The past perfect simple is used to describe one action that happened before another action in the past.

In many cases a complete sentence is written in two parts with two different tenses:

  1. The past perfect simple, to refer to the action that happened first or earlier
  2. The past simple to refer to the action that happened second or later

Sometimes the past perfect simple is used on its own and the action that took place afterwards is understood.

  1. After Sofie had finished her work, she went to lunch.
    (First she finished her work and then she went to eat lunch.)
  2. I washed the floor when the painter had gone.
    (First the painter left and then I washed the floor.)
  3. Harold had known about it for a while.
    (First he knew about it, then others knew about it)

The past perfect simple tense is formed by using the auxiliary verb had together with the V3 (past participle). The V3 (past participle) form of a regular verb looks just like a regular verb in the past simple:

  1. walk > walked / study > studied / stop > stopped / create > created

There are quite a few irregular verbs in English though. It pays to memorize them.

Subject had +Verb(V3)
(Past Participle)
Rest of Sentence
I / You / We / They
He / She / It
had met him before he became famous
had lived here for three years by the time we met

Note: The order of phrases may be switched, but the meaning will stay the same.

  1. By the time Doris got to the party, everyone had gone home.
  2. Everyone had gone home by the time Doris had got to the party.

Note: Had Had – A verb combination that often causes confusion in the past perfect simple is had had. Ex. I had had enough to eat but I wanted dessert anyway. The first had is the auxiliary (or helping) verb and the second had is the V3 (or past participle) of the main verb to have. It means that even though I ate enough, I wanted dessert after that. It may look strange, but it is correct.

Contractions in the Past Perfect Simple

Punctuation Tip

When you begin a sentence with a time expression, put a comma (,) after the first part of the sentence.

We often contract the subject (the person or thing that had done the action) and had:

  1. I had > I’d – After I’d used the phone, I paid the bill.
  2. He had > He’d / She has > She’d / It has > It’dIt’d happened so quickly, I didn’t notice.
  3. We had > We’d / You have > You’d /They are > They’dWe’d just gotten home, when we heard the blast outside.

Negative Sentences in the Past Perfect Simple Tense

When creating negative sentences, we use the auxiliary verbs hadn’t (had not) together with the V3 (past participle) form of the verb. You can also create a negative sentence by using the auxiliary verb had with the time expression never and then the V3.

Subject Auxillery Verb Verb in V3
(Past Participle)
Rest of Sentence
I / You / We / They
He / She / It
hadn’t (had not) driven a car before then
had never driven a car before then
  1. I had not eaten at that restaurant before today.
  2. Samantha hadn’t had time to explain her side of the story.
  3. My friends hadn’t ever gone to France.
  4. My friends had never gone to the USA either.

Yes/No Questions in the Past Perfect Simple

To create a question that will be answered with a yes or no, start the question with Had (Hadn’t for a negative question) then add a subject (the person or thing that had done the action) followed by the V3 (Past Participle) form of the verb and only then add the rest of the sentence.

Auxiliary Verb Subject Verb in V3
(Past Participle)
Rest of Sentence
Had I / you / we / they
he / she / it
had time to rehearse you’re the song
Had he / she / it eaten there before
  1. Had you cleaned up the mess by the time they came home?
  2. Had Adam ever spoken to the CEO before he was fired?

Wh-Questions in the Past Perfect Simple

Wh- questions are questions that require more information in their answers. Typical wh- words are what, where, when, why, who, how, how many, how much.

To create a wh-question, start with the wh-word, then add had, then the subject (a person or thing that had done the action), followed by the V3 (Past Participle) form of the verb and only then add the rest of the sentence.

Wh-Word Auxiliary Verb Subject Verb in V3
(Past Participle)
Rest of Sentence
What had I / you / we / they
he / she / it
taught before leaving education
Why had changed the subject
  1. What had they said that made him so angry?
  2. Why had he agreed to work for that salary?
  3. How much had he drunk before you got to him?

Tag Questions in the Past Perfect Simple

Tag questions are those short questions that are tagged onto the end of a sentence. They are used just to make sure that the person you’re talking to understood what you meant or to emphasize what you said.

They’re formed by writing a regular sentence in the past perfect simple, then by adding hadn’t and a pronoun (I, you, we, they, he, she, it) and a question mark.

  1. John had known about the cancer for a couple of years, hadn’t he?
  2. They had been in business together, hadn’t they?

You may also add a positive tag when you’re using a negative sentence.

  1. Jennifer hadn’t spoken to you about it, had she?
  2. They had never eaten a proper Indian meal, had they?

As a rule: When the sentence is positive, the tag is negative.
When the sentence is negative, the tag is positive.

Exercises – Past Perfect Simple

Fill in the correct form of the past perfect simple or past simple as in the examples.

  1. After Loren had turned on the alarm, she locked the door. (turn on)
  2. By the time Simone arrived, the police had already left. (arrive)
  3. Had you known about the contract they signed? (know)
  1. After the company _____Joe, he began to work on his first project. (hire)
  2. _____you _______ the news before you saw it on TV? (hear)
  3. Michael didn’t want to see the movie because he _______ the book yet. (not read)
  4. The concert ______ already _______when we _______ the stadium. (begin/ enter)
  5. Until Anne ________ Mark, she ____ never ______in love. (meet, be)
  6. Bill __________ for years before he finally _______. (smoke/ quit)
  7. _______ Sara ever _______to London by herself before then? (drive)
  8. How many fish ______ the boys _____ by the time it started raining? (catch)
  9. You ________ them to go to the beach, hadn’t you? (forbid)
  10. The girls _______ in weeks? That’s why they ______ so much afterwards. (exercise / hurt)

Answers:

  1. had hired
  2. Had/heard
  3. hadn’t read
  4. had/begun/entered
  5. met/had/been
  6. had smoked/quit
  7. Had/driven
  8. had/caught
  9. had forbidden
  10. hadn’t exercised / hurt

Examples – Past Perfect Simple

  1. After Sofie had finished her work, she went to lunch.
  2. I washed the floor when the painter had gone.
  3. Harold had known about it for a while.
  4. I didn’t say anything until she had finished talking.
  5. After she had moved out, I found her notes.
  6. Before I knew it, she had run out the door.
  7. By the time he phoned her, she had found someone new.
  8. By the time Doris got to the party, everyone had gone home.
  9. Everyone had gone home by the time Doris had got to the party.
  10. I had had enough of his complaining.
  11. After I’d used the phone, I paid the bill.
  12. It’d happened so quickly, I didn’t notice.
  13. We’d just gotten home, when we heard the blast outside.

Negative

  1. I had not eaten at that restaurant before today.
  2. Samantha hadn’t had time to explain her side of the story.
  3. My friends hadn’t ever gone to France.
  4. My friends had never gone to the USA either.

Yes/No Questions

  1. Had you cleaned up the mess by the time they came home?
  2. Had Adam ever spoken to the CEO before he was fired?

Wh- Questions

  1. What had they said that made him so angry?
  2. Why had he agreed to work for that salary?
  3. How much had he drunk before you got to him?

Tag Questions

  1. John had known about the cancer for a couple of years, hadn’t he?
  2. They had been in business together, hadn’t they?
  3. Jenifer hadn’t spoken to you about it, had she?
  4. They had never eaten a proper Indian meal, had they?