Past Perfect Tense

What are the functions of the past perfect?

The past perfect tense is used to indicate an action that was completed sometime in the past before another event happened later on. It shows clearly that both past completed events happened at different time ratio with one happening much earlier than the other and makes it clear which one of the two events happened first.

Let’s look at the simple past tense for a fresh reminder.

Simple past is used to describe events that happened in the past without being linked to another past or the future.

For example:

  • It rained this morning.
  • He travelled to the village.
  • They left for school.

The past perfect, which is also known as the past of the past, brings two past events that are linked together. For example:

  • It had rained this morning, so the football match was postponed.

Looking at the two events that both happened in the past, one took place earlier than the other. With “it had rained this morning” being the earlier past and “the football match was postponed” being the recent past. The past perfect “had rained” is used because the incident happened before another one in the past which are closely linked.

Another example:

  • He had travelled before I came.

The sentence above shows two events that happened in the past, “he had travelled” represents one complete past event and “I came” being the second past event that took place after the first past event.


  • Miza had left when I arrived in the room.
  • I hadn’t moved my wardrobe before it flooded.
  • She had gone back when I got there.
  • He had lost the bet before you sent the money.

There is also the case where the recent past event is introduced before the earlier past event. For example:

  • When they arrived at the mall the shops had closed down.
  • Before he came, he had met with an accident.
  • Before he jumped, he had cleared the area.

How to form the past perfect tense?

Past perfect tense is formed using the past tense form of “to have” that is “had” and the past participle of the verb of the first event. This verb can either be a regular or an irregular verb.

Subject + HadPast Participle
AffirmativeHe hadfinished
Negative and affirmativeHe hadn’tfinished
InterrogativeHad theyleft?
Negative and interrogativeHadn’t theyleft?

Now, let’s use the past participle of the verb “to walk” to form the past perfect tense.

I had walkedI hadn’t walkedHad I walked?
She had walkedShe hadn’t walkedHad she walked?
We had walkedWe hadn’t walkedHad we walked?
They had walkedThey hadn’t walkedHad they walked

Forming the past perfect tense using the word “just”

The word “just” in past perfect tense is used to indicate an action that took place only a short time earlier before now.

Let’s look at some examples;

  • The man had just left when I got to the park.
  • She had just lost her bag when I arrived.
  • I had just finished cooking when he left.


Do not overuse the past perfect simply because we are talking about things or sometime in the past. Remember, we only use the past perfect when we want to relate to a past that is earlier than another in a narrative.

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