Past Perfect Tense: What, How & Why With Examples

The past perfect is an important English tense to learn as it’s used in many different scenarios. This article will explain the past perfect, how we use it, when we use it, and what function this tense has in English.

Let’s begin!

Past perfect tense example

What Is The Past Perfect Tense?

The past perfect is a particular type of English tense used in the following situations.

1) When discussing an action completed at a specific time in the past.

For example:

  • Google had established its company before 1999.
  • She had never practiced yoga before last week's class.
  • They had gotten married before they had kids in 2009.
  • Robot-assisted surgery had reached a pivotal point before 2022.

2) To show that an action was completed before something else in the past.

For example:

  • Sally had studied linguistics before she moved to Chicago.
  • He had broken up with them before he moved on.
  • Dad had gotten his license before he worked as a counselor.
  • We had lost many tournaments because we hadn’t practiced enough.

3) When referring to reported speech. This can be indirect or direct.

For example:

  • The teacher had said we needed to study for the exam. (Indirect)
  • The doctor had asked if I had any allergies. (Indirect)
  • Danny said, ‘he hadn’t seen it.’ (Direct)
  • She said, ‘I had lived in many places before this.’ (Direct)
  • He said that he hadn’t seen it. (Indirect)

4) To express displeasure about an event or action that happened in the past.

  • I wish that I hadn’t studied the arts.
  • I wish that I hadn’t posted that reel.
  • She wished she had told the truth to her dad.
  • Robert and Sandra wished they had asked more questions before going on the trip.


How Do We Use The Past Perfect?

The past perfect has three forms; Affirmative, Negative, and Interrogative, and each form is structured in a slightly different way. Let's take a look at each type.


Past Perfect Tense Examples: Affirmative 

Past Perfect Tense Examples: Negative

Past Perfect Tense Examples: Interrogative



Why Do We Use The Past Perfect?

The past perfect is an excellent tense to use when you want to understand a sequence of events, as it naturally lends itself to this. It’s also helpful when expressing how something in the past made you feel or when reporting what someone said or did.

Tips & Tricks

  • Only use the past perfect tense when talking about actions that occurred in the past. Use the present perfect when talking about feelings, ideas, or actions that are still true in the present.
  • Most verbs are formed in the past participle by adding -ed at the end of the verb. For example: ‘dance’ becomes ‘danced.’
  • Some verbs are irregular in the past perfect tense. For example: ‘swim,’ becomes ‘swum.’
  • When you learn or encounter a new verb, check whether it’s regular or irregular.
  • There aren’t any hard or fast rules when mixing tenses in one sentence. Just make sure that they fit in the context.


Past Perfect Tense Examples

Lastly, here are 10 examples of the past perfect tense in affirmative, negative, and interrogative.

  • We had arrived after the plane had left.
  • She had swum the 50-meter freestyle race at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
  • Had you seen her before today?
  • Who had you met before going to the cafe?
  • They had gone home before the kids arrived.
  • We hadn’t talked to her before yesterday.
  • I had hoped you would have been kinder.
  • I wish I hadn’t said anything.
  • Australia had been called New Holland before the British arrived.
  • I had hoped to get my degree before I worked in finance.

Test your knowledge with our quick past perfect tense quiz!


Does the following sentence use the past perfect tense?
I had caught ten fish before my grandpa had one.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Does the following sentence use the past perfect tense?
I had been walking when I saw a mysterious black cat.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers

Does the following sentence use the past perfect tense?
I had been cooking dinner when she arrived.

Choose the best answer from the choices below

Possible answers


Thanks for checking out this article. If you want to learn more, we’ve got plenty of grammar-related material, and why not take a look at our Words With Friends Cheat tool, helping you to find the right words whenever you need them!


More Verb Tense Topics: