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When to use the past perfect tense

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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.

  • John phoned five minutes ago. (NOT John had phoned five minutes ago.)
  • Her father died last year. (NOT Her father had died last year.)
  • I visited some friends yesterday. (NOT I had visited some friends yesterday.)

Compare:

  • She wrote the letter and posted it. (Simple past)
  • She posted the letter that she had written yesterday. (Past perfect)

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.

  • Mother cooked dinner when father arrived. (Simple past)

In this case, mother waited until father arrived and then cooked dinner.

  • Mother had cooked dinner when father arrived. (Past perfect)

In this case, mother had already finished cooking by the time father arrived.

  • She started working on that report when her boss arrived. (Simple past)

In this case she waited until her boss arrived and then started working on that report.

  • She had started working on that report when her boss arrived. (Past perfect)

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.

  • If I had done my homework, the teacher would not have punished me.
  • If she had applied in time, she would have received the scholarship.
  • If she had sounded less pompous, she would have been more popular.

Note that been is the past participle form of be.

Sections In This Article
CBSE class ten English grammar - sentence completion exercise 1
CBSE class ten English grammar - sentence completion exercise 2

 

 

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