Use of the past perfect simple

(Explanation of the pluperfect in English grammar)

Table of contents – past perfect simple

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of the past perfect simple
  2. Formation of the past perfect simple
  3. Further explanations and exercises

When do we use the past perfect simple?

The past perfect (sometimes also called pluperfect) is a tense in English that expresses the so to speak past before the past which means events that happened earlier than subsequent events. By using the simple form it is the action itself that is emphasized (the fact that it took place) in comparison to the progress when using the past perfect continuous. In detail it is needed in the following cases:

  • The past perfect simple is required for an action or process that happened before another one (key words: ‘the previous week, the day before, the month before’ etc.):
    • “The week before I bought the car I had won the lottery.”
      • first or rather earlier action that took place = ‘… had won the lottery …’
      • second or subsequent action = ‘… bought the car …’
    • “I couldn’t get into my house because I had lost the key the previous day.”
      • first action = ‘… had lost the key …’
      • second action = ‘… couldn’t get into my house …’
  • The past perfect simple can also describe actions in the past in a similar way as the present perfect does for actions in the present:
    • “They are laughing because their neighbour has told them a funny joke.”
      • present tenses
    • “They were laughing because their neighbour had told them a funny joke.”
      • past tenses
  • Attention: For events and processes that happened instantaneously in a consecutive way the past simple is usually the correct tense to choose:
    • “Sally paid, went to her car und drove home.”
    • “I went to bed and fell asleep straightaway.”

What is the rule for forming the past perfect simple?

The past perfect simple is based on the past tense form of the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ in combination with the past participle of the corresponding main verb. In most cases – that is for regular verbs – the past participle has the form of the verb plus the ending ‘-ed’. However, irregular verbs do not follow any specific rule and have special forms, which are listed in the table of irregular verbs (third column).

Rule for conjugation of the past perfect simple

had’ + past participle (3rd form of the verb)

Additional examples

  • “I had worked the day before.”
  • “You had been very lucky.”
  • “They had driven very fast.”

Explanations relating to the ‘Past perfect simple’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Use of the simple form of the English past perfect tense (past perfect simple)’ and may be helpful:

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