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Past Perfect

He had studied English before

He had studied English before he moved to London.

The past perfect tense is quite an easy tense to understand and to use. This tense talks about the “past in the past”.

How do we make the Past Perfect Tense?

Positive: Subject + had + Past Participle.

Negative: Subject + had not + Past Participle.

Question: Had + Subject + Past Participle

Forms of Past Perfect

  • I had finished.
  • You had finished.
  • We had finished.
  • They had finished.
  • He had finished.
  • She had finished.
  • It had finished.
  • I had not finished.
  • You had not finished.
  • We had not finished.
  • They had not finished.
  • He had not finished.
  • She had not finished.
  • It had not finished.
  • Had I finished?
  • Had you finished?
  • Had we finished?
  • Had they finished?
  • Had he finished?
  • Had she finished?
  • Had it finished?

When speaking with Past Perfect Tense, we often contract the Subject and auxiliary verb (had = ‘d)

[column-group][column]I had = I’d
You had = You’d[/column][column]He had = He’d
She had = She’d[/column][column]We had = We’d
They had = They’d[/column][column]It had = It’d[/column][/column-group]

Use of Past Perfect

Completed Action Before Something in the Past

The past perfect tense expresses an action in the past occurred before another action in the past. This is the past in the past.

For example:

  • The train left at 9am. We arrived at 9.15am. When we arrived, the train had left.

The action “the train had left” happens before the action “when we arrived”. Both actions are in the past.

Look at more examples:

I had never seen such a beautiful beach before I went to Kauai.
I did not have any money because I had lost my wallet.
Tony knew Istanbul so well because he had visited the city several times.
Had Susan ever studied Thai before she moved to Thailand?
She only understood the movie because she had read the book.
Kristine had never been to an opera before last night.
We were not able to get a hotel room because we had not booked in advance.
A: Had you ever visited the U.S. before your trip in 2006?
B: Yes, I had been to the U.S. once before.

Duration Before Something in the Past (Non-Continuous Verbs)

We use the Past Perfect to show that something started in the past and continued up until another action in the past.

  • We had had that car for ten years before it broke down.
  • By the time Alex finished his studies, he had been in London for over eight years.
  • They felt bad about selling the house because they had owned it for more than forty years.

Specific time in the Past

Past Perfect can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past.

  • He had finished his homework before 10 o’clock yesterday.
  • She had studied English before she entered university in 1999.


If the Past Perfect action did occur at a specific time, the Simple Past can be used instead of the Past Perfect when “before” or “after” is used in the sentence. The words “before” and “after” actually tell you what happens first, so the Past Perfect is optional. For this reason, both sentences below are correct.


  • She had visited her Japanese relatives once in 1993 before she moved in with them in 1996.
  • She visited her Japanese relatives once in 1993 before she moved in with them in 1996.

If the Past Perfect is not referring to an action at a specific time, Past Perfect is not optional. Compare the examples below. Here Past Perfect is referring to a lack of experience rather than an action at a specific time. For this reason, Simple Past cannot be used.


  • She never saw a bear before she moved to Alaska. (Not Correct)
  • She had never seen a bear before she moved to Alaska. (Correct)

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