Usage of Past Perfect in English

The Past Perfect tense is not very often used in daily spoken English. However, it often appears in literary works and professional literature. When it is used properly, it would always benefit your paper and make a good impression on the readers. If you want to write excellent essays or other academic papers that deserve great marks, then you need to learn how to use the Past Perfect correctly. But meanwhile, you can ask our editors for their professional help if you wish your paper to be free of Past Perfect tense errors, as well as from other types of grammar, punctuation or spelling mistakes.

Today we will try to review all the main aspects of the Past Perfect usage: its types, how it is created, how and when to use it. If you seek to improve your knowledge of grammar further, you are welcome to visit our blog for more informative articles. And remember that you can always rely on Royal Editing when you need any assistance with your writing.


Past Perfect Tense: Definition and Types

Past Perfect is not the most widely used tense in English language. Many students and even native speakers avoid using it, thinking that it is too complicated. However, you will see that this tense is very simple when you fully understand what it is for. The Past Perfect tense main function is to emphasize the action that was completed or carried on before some moment in the past. There are two types of the Past Perfect tense, which are Past Perfect Simple and Past Perfect Continuous. We will take a closer look at each type after we figure out how the Past Perfect is formed.

How to Form the Past Perfect

The Past Perfect is easy to form. All you need is a past simple of ‘have’ and a past participle form of a verb. The formula is easy, however a little different for Past Perfect Simple and Continuous.

The Past Perfect Simple = HAD + PAST PARTICIPLE

For example: I had washed my hands;

They had bought the car.

The Past Perfect Continuous = HAD + BEEN + VERB (continuous form)

For example: I had been waiting.

They had been driving.

These are the positive, or in other words, stating forms of the Past Perfect. Nevertheless, you must also be able to form negative forms as well as questions, if you want to impress people with your writing.

Negative form of the Past Perfect is made simply by adding ‘not’ to ‘had’. You can use the full form or contraction. For example: I had not seen the movie. OR I hadn’t seen the movie. However, take note that the usage of contractions is strictly forbidden in academic papers .

There are two types of questions you can make using the Past Perfect tense. The first type is called yes/no questions and the other is the Wh-questions. To form a yes/no question, you just need to place ‘had’ at the first place in the clause. For example: Had you called me? If you want to form a Wh-question (any question that begins with such words as who, why, where, when, what ), you need to put the Wh-word at the beginning followed by ‘had’ and past participle. For example: Who had called you?

How to Use the Past Perfect Simple

The Past Perfect Simple tense must be used only on rare occasions when you need to stress that something happened in the past before another action or event. Let’s look at the situation when the usage of the Past Perfect Simple is recommended:

  • When you need to show that an action was completed before some event in the past. E.g:

When we arrived, the shop had closed. (= the shop closed before we arrived.);

  • To express a cause and effect situation; to explain the reason why something happened in the past. E.g.:

It had snowed last night, so the flight was postponed. (=the flight was postponed in the past, because it snowed before that.);

  • To show that some action started and continued in the past only up to another action or event from the past. E.g.:

She had played in the theatre for three years, when she moved abroad . (=before she moved abroad, she played in the theatre for three years.);

  • To form the third type of conditional sentences. E.g.

If you had told me how you felt, I would have come right away.

How to Use the Past Perfect Continuous

The Past Perfect Continuous is also sometimes called Progressive, because it emphasizes that a certain action was progressing up to some point in the past. Its usage is fairly similar to the Past Perfect Simple, however there are some distinguishing features as well. You use the Past Perfect Continuous when you want to:

  • Show duration of some action that took place in the past before another event in the past. For example:

They had been talking for a long time, before they noticed how late it was;

  • Express a cause of certain situation that took place in the past. E.g.

Mother was upset, because the child had been crying ;

  • Form a third conditional. For example:

If it hadn’t been snowing, we would have gone to the movies;

  • Form a reported speech. For example:

He said he didn’t know that he had been getting sick.

As you may see, there is nothing very complicated about the usage of the Past Perfect. Now you can apply it whenever needed in your papers or in your daily speech. It will enrich your language and create a positive impression about you as a careful, intelligent writer. However, if you have any doubts about your grammar, you can place an order for editing services. All editors and proofreaders that work for Royal Editing are certified professionals with a lot of experience. They can help you to polish any type of paper and achieve success with your writing. In addition, Royal Editing is happy to offer you various discounts and very friendly prices.





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