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Past Perfect Simple

When do we use the Past Perfect Simple?

We use the past perfect simple when we are talking about the past and want to talk about the relationship between them.

 

1. a finished action before a second point in the past

If we talk about the actions in the order they happened then we would use the Past Simple.

  • The film started, we arrived at the cinema.

Sometimes we want to change the order, maybe to stress the most important point by putting it at the beginning of the sentence. When we do that we usually use the past perfect to make it clear which action happened first.

  • When we arrived, the film had started (= first the film started, then we arrived).

If it is clear which action happened first (because we use words like ‘before’ or ‘after’, for example), the past perfect is optional.

  • The film started before we arrived. / The film had started before we arrived.

2. to explain the connection between two past events

Sometimes it is clear the order past actions happened in, for example:

  • I ate, I wasn’t hungry.

but to show that there is a connection between the two we emphasis this with the Past Perfect Simple

  • I had eaten so I wasn’t hungry 

3. to show something started in the past and continued up to another action in the past. 

The past perfect simple simple tells us ‘how long’, just like the present perfect, but this time the action continues up to a point in the past rather than to the present.

  • When I left the job I had worked there for 10 years.

4. as part of the 3rd conditional

To talk about unreal or imaginary things in the past.

  • If I had studied I would have passed the exam.

5. Signal words

  • already
  • before
  • for
  • just
  • never
  • not yet
  • once
  • until that day
  • when

6. Form

had + past participlethis is infinitive + ed or 3rd column of irregular verb table

7. Examples

7.1. Affirmative sentences in the Past Perfect Simple – regular verbs

Long forms Contracted forms
I had played football. Id played football.
You had played football. Youd played football.
He had played football. He’d played football.

7.2. Affirmative sentences in the Past Perfect Simple – irregular verbs

Long forms Contracted forms
I had been to school. Id been to school.
You had been to school. Youd been to school.
He had been to school. Hed been to school.

7.3. Negative sentences in the Past Perfect Simple – regular verbs

Long forms Contracted forms
I had not played football. Id not played football.
I hadn’t played football.
You had not played football. Youd not played football.
You hadn’t played football.
He had not played football Hed not played football.
He hadn’t played football.

7.4. Negative sentences in the Past Perfect Simple– irregular verbs

Long forms Contracted forms
I had not been to school. Id not been to school.
I hadn’t been to school.
You had not been to school. Youd not been to school.
You hadn’t been to school.
He had not been to school. Hed not been to school.
He hadn’t been to school.

7.5. Questions in the Past Perfect Simple – regular verbs

Long forms Contracted forms
Had I played football? There are no contracted forms.
Had you played football?
Had he played football?

7.6. Questions in the Past Perfect Simple – irregular verbs

Long forms Contracted forms
Had I been to school? There are no contracted forms.
Had you been to school?
Had he been to school?