Forming and using the Past Perfect

 

How we use English verb forms (tenses) is essential to developing good communication in English.

This is part of a series about how we use English grammar correctly. I am not going to talk about how we construct the verb form but I want to give the basic concepts of how these grammatical forms are used by native English speakers. If you want to see my advice and tips of how to construct English verb forms see  Here: verb form structure

The Past Perfect

The Past Perfect tells us about something that happened before another time in the past

  • When I arrived at the cinema the film had already started

There are two events, here in chronological order:

  • The film started (at 8.00 pm)
  • I arrived at the cinema (at 8.10 pm)

If we focus our attention on: I arrived at the cinema this will mean that The film started is an action or event anterior to that

Another example would be:

John first met Lucy at a conference in 1998

John saw her again at Heathrow airport in London last August

If we focus our attention on last August we would get the following sentence:

  • When John saw the tall, elegant woman at Heathrow airport last August, he remembered that he had met her some years before.

The Past Perfect only has sense when used in conjunction with another past verb. Once we establish that this event happened before another past time we can continue talking about it using the Past Simple not the Past Perfect.

If we continue the story of John and Lucy:

When John saw the tall, elegant woman at Heathrow airport last August, he remembered that he had met her some years before. He had been at a conference on IT developments in education. Lucy was in his workshop discussion group. At the end of the day they all decided to go for dinner together and then to a night club.

 

Past perfect or Past Continuous -Grammar Exercise
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