The past perfect tense overview

The past perfect tense is used to talk about the earlier of two past events.

Form: Subject + had + past participle form of the verb

  • I had finished dinner before dad came home.
  • The patient had died before the doctor came.
  • She had left before I reached home.
  • The boy had drowned before people came to rescue him.
  • It had stopped raining before we went out.
  • She had finished her studies before she got married.

Note that the past perfect tense is not used to simply state that something happened some time ago. That idea is expressed with the simple past tense.

  • Ravi called ten minutes ago. (NOT Ravi had called ten minutes ago.)
  • Ravi had called before he left for airport. (Here we are talking about two past events and hence we use the past perfect for the earlier of the ¬†two actions.)
  • His father died last year. (NOT His father had died last year.)
  • His parents had died before he turned 18.
  • My mother made a cake yesterday. (NOT My mother had made a cake yesterday.)
  • My mother had made the cake before I returned home from school.

Sometimes we use the conjunctions before and after to show which action took place first. The use of the past perfect tense is optional in this case.

  • I had finished my homework before dad came home. OR I finished my homework before dad came home.
  • I had learnt my lessons before I went out to play. OR I learnt my lessons before I went out to play.
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