The past perfect is a verb tense that is learned by students at an advanced level. It is used for an action that happened before another action in the simple past. Look at these two examples:
When I got home, my roommate went to bed.
(My roommate went to bed after I got home.)
When I got home, my roommate had gone to bed.
(My roommate went to bed before I got home.)
The past perfect is most often used in a sentence with a verb in the simple past or a time in the past. The word already is often used to emphasize that the action in the past perfect tense occurred before the action in the simple past tense.
The movie had already started by the time we arrived.
She hadn’t made up her mind until late last night.
Had you read the book before you saw the movie?
Sometimes the past perfect can be the only verb in a sentence, but it refers to an action that is already stated.
“Why was Johnny sad? Did you punish him for something?”
“Yes, he had drawn pictures all over the wall in the living room.”
(Drawing pictures was before being punished.)
“Why didn’t your son run in the race?”
“He had broken a toe the day before.”
(Breaking a toe was before not running in the race.)
Generally speaking, the past perfect is used less and less in today’s English, especially when it’s already clear which action happened before the other. This is especially true with the words: before, after and until. With these 3 words and sometimes with the word when, it’s clear which action happened first. Therefore, it’s not necessary to use the past perfect, and most English speakers use the simple past.
He had finished all his homework before he went to bed.
He finished all his homework before he went to bed. (also correct)
(It’s clear that finishing his homework is before going to bed.)
After he had fallen asleep on the sofa, his wife turned off the light.
After he fell asleep on the sofa, his wife turned off the light. (also correct)
(It’s clear that his falling asleep is before his wife’s getting into bed.)
She didn’t go to bed until she had done all her chores.
She didn’t go to bed until she did all her chores. (also correct)
(It’s clear that doing all her chores is before going to bed.)
He started practicing his guitar as soon as he had gotten home.
He started practicing his guitar as soon as he got home. (also correct)
(It’s clear that getting home is before practicing his guitar.)
When the children had finished their homework, they put their books away.
When the children finished their homework, they put their books away.
(It’s clear that finishing their homework is before putting their books away.)
BUT when it is not clear which action happened first, you must use the past perfect for the first action.
When the movie finished, everyone had left the theatre. (Leaving the theatre was before the movie finished.)
When the movie finished, everyone left the theatre. (Leaving the theatre was after the movie finished.)
(It’s not clear which action happened first, so the past perfect is used in the first example.)
When two actions happen at the same time or almost the same time, use the simple past for both actions.
When I arrived at work, I turned on the lights. (Arriving at work and turning on the lights is at almost the same time.)
She screamed when she opened her present. (Screaming and opening her present are at the same time.)
In reported speech when you add the words showing that a speaker said something, those words become the second action, and if the other action is in the simple past, it is changed to the past perfect because it happened before the person reported it.
He said, “I crashed the car into a tree.”
He said that he had crashed the car into a tree.
(Crashing the car is before saying it.)
She told him, “You left the milk out last night.”
She told him that he had left the milk out last night.
(Leaving the milk out is before telling him.)
We asked them, “Did you win the game?”
We asked them if they had won the game.
(Winning the game is before asking them.)
Also in reported speech, if the original verb in quoted speech is in the present perfect, it is changed to the past perfect.
He said, “My brother has been home all week with the flu.” (quoted speech)
He said that his brother had been home all week with the flu. (reported speech)
She told me, “I’ve seen that movie four times.” (quoted speech)
She told me that she had seen that movie four times. (reported speech)
We asked her, “Have you ever gone abroad?” (quoted speech)
We asked her if she had ever gone abroad. (reported speech)
© 2013 Ambien Malecot