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When to use the past perfect tense
ESL students often find it difficult to use the past perfect tense correctly. It is easy to construct past perfect tense forms. You just need to put had before the past participle form of the verb. However, many students donít know exactly when the past perfect tense should be used.
In this lesson, I will try to answer some of the questions you have about the correct use of the past perfect tense.
Both simple past and past perfect tenses are used to talk about finished actions and events. However, there is an important difference between them. The past perfect tense is used to indicate that an action was completed before another action commenced in the past.
We do not use the past perfect tense to simply state that something happened some time ago. That idea is always expressed using the simple past tense.
Here the past perfect tense is used to indicate that the letter was written before it was posted. Of course, it is commonsense and the use of the past perfect tense is optional in this case.
Now read the following pair of sentences.
In this case, mother waited until father arrived and then cooked dinner.
In this case, mother had already finished cooking by the time father arrived.
In this case she waited until her boss arrived and then started working on that report.
In this case, she had already started working on that report by the time her boss arrived.
In conditional sentences, the past perfect tense is commonly used to talk about unreal or imaginary situations. In grammars, these are called Third Conditional sentences. Note that here we use the past perfect tense in the if-clause and would have + past participle in the result clause.
Note that been is the past participle form of be.
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