Past Perfect

What are Past Perfect verbs?

Past perfect verbs are used to describe an event that happened prior to another past event or situation. These verbs have past participles of regular and irregular verbs, connected by the helping verb “had,” meaning they all generally follow the structure of “had + past participle.”

The past perfect is usually used when describing two past events, using the first event with past perfect and the second with simple past. For example, if someone said, “I just saw my cat eat a mouse,” it would be correct to say, “When I arrived in the room, he had already eaten it.” The past perfect demonstrates that something happened before something else in past tense.

Past Perfect Rules

Learning these four critical rules when using the Past Perfect will help communication become clearer and easier.

ConjugationsBe aware that many verbs have unique simple past conjugations and must be memorized separately from the regular form – for example, the verb ‘I went’ becomes went’ instead of ‘going’.
Habitual actionsRemember that past sentences indicate habitual actions or those which occur in the past tense.
DescriptionsPast verbs emphasize universal truths like wide-spread statements of fact while simple present adverbs can be used to describe an action taking place in a single instance.
Auxiliary verbPast questions use an auxiliary verb alongside the main verb – such as ‘did’, ‘was’, or ‘were’ – when forming a question.
Past Perfect Rules Table

Examples of Past Perfect Verbs

The past perfect verb tense is one of the most important tenses to understand in English. It is used to describe events that took place in the past before another event occurred. Examples of past perfect verbs include:

  • Had eaten
  • Had gone
  • Had written

This tense is formed by combining the past tense of the auxiliary verb ‘had’ with a past participle verb, resulting in sentences like; “He had already eaten when he arrived at the restaurant”. For students of English, it can be important to practice using past perfect verbs correctly when forming past events and speaking or writing about them.

Past Perfect Exercises with Answers


  • The students _ _ their presentation before they left the room.
  • The group _ _ _ dinner before I even arrived at the restaurant.
  • She _ _ that movie many times before.
  • He _ _ _ for two weeks before he successfully completed the final exam.
  • If Katie _ _ her vegetables, she would be healthier now.


  • The students had finished their presentation before they left the room.
  • The group had already ordered dinner before I even arrived at the restaurant.
  • She had seen that movie many times before.
  • He had been studying for two weeks before he successfully completed the final exam.
  • If Katie had eaten her vegetables, she would be healthier now.

Past Perfect Verbs List

Had been eatingTypically occurs multiple times throughout the day for sustenance.
Had been thinkingAn individual’s thought process.
Had been speakingCommonly used when communicating.
Had been doubtingA way of saying something is unsure
Had been leavingUsed to indicate impermanence
Had been goingSuggests expectations of going somewhere.
Had been writingTo describe an action of recording things down.
Past Perfect Verbs List Table
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Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

For English language learners, past perfect is an important concept to understand. Mastering past perfect can improve a learner’s ability to express past experiences and events in a fluent manner.

A good way to practice past perfect is to use it when speaking or writing as often as possible. Being intentional about using past perfect will not only help build confidence when speaking but also broaden the student’s range of vocabulary and sentence structure capabilities. Additionally, resources such as online practice tests and tutorials are available to help deepen understanding of past perfect and language learning overall.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand present perfect progressive, past perfect progressive and future perfect.

Common Mistakes Made by English Learners

While past perfect is not commonly used in everyday English, learning it can give English learners a great advantage and ensure their language use is appropriate.

One of the most common mistakes made by English learners is confusing past perfect with other past tenses. This simple mistake can cause serious misunderstandings of a person’s intentions or points that are trying to be communicated. To prevent this mistake from occurring, it is important for learners to understand past perfect and be able to differentiate it from other past tenses through practice and practice Drills. It may take time, but past perfect mastery is essential for becoming a successful communicator in English.

Common Mistakes:

1. Incorrect Tense

Why it Happens

Not having a firm grasp on correct tense usage can confuse your statements. This can cause you to use the wrong verbs and misconstrue your message.

Correct Use

When speaking in the past perfect tense, you would use a verb that reflects current habits and routines. Keep tense in mind when selecting your verbs.

2. Lack of Compounds

Why it Happens

The first mistake is leaving out verbs when needed. Failing to use these in phrases can lead others to misinterpret what you are trying to express.

Correct Use

Verbs join two words to actions – for example, ‘to eat something’ or ‘I am crossing the street’.

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3. Inconsistency

Why it Happens

People forget how they described something before and change the context in a contradictory manner. This confuses the reader.

Correct Use

Be sure that your verbs remain consistent throughout your writing. There should be no sudden shifts from ‘happen’ to ‘finish’ unless there was a clear shift in the thing being described.

4. Incorrect Usage

Why it Happens

You don’t know which verbs to use, so you use too many and it confuses the statement.

Correct Use

Using too many verbs can make your writing sound monotonous and can also lead to viewers losing interest. Therefore it is important to focus on expressing yourself clearly and effectively with them.

Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes:

When it comes to avoiding common mistakes, the past perfect tense is an essential concept to understand. Not only does past perfect provide important information about time, but it also shows a connection between past and present events.

  • To use past perfect correctly, first determine when the past event took place relative to the present moment, then form your sentence by adding “had” before the past participle verb of your sentence. This will help you craft clear and accurate sentences easily.
  • Learning past perfect can be tricky, so practice as often as possible until you become comfortable with the concept.
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Learning Past Perfect Strategies and Best Practices

Learning past perfect is a valuable English language skill that can be used to describe past experiences. By understanding past perfect strategies and best practices, you will increase your ability to effectively use past tenses in conversations or speaking tasks.

Before mastering past perfect, it is helpful to practice constructing sentences regularly and reviewing the different uses for past tenses such as past perfect continuous or simple past. Understanding the nuances between each of these tenses will help you become fluent in expressing yourself in English! Additionally, keep reading for more useful tips:

Tip 1: Study a List

Why it helps

Learning the various forms and using them properly in speaking and writing is easier than it seems with daily practice. A list can simplify this process and make it seem less daunting.

Daily Life Example

The best way to learn to use verbs correctly is to study a list of verbs and their usages, and then practice writing sentences with them.

Tip 2: Practice Reading

Why it helps

Exposing yourself to verbs hidden between other words can help you identify them faster and more accurately.

Daily Life Example

To ensure that you understand how frequently a type of verb should be used it’s important to practice reading with them as well, so the meanings become clear. So keep a book of your choice on hand and highlight every verb you come across.

Tip 3: Everyday Conversations

Why it helps

By applying the verbs exercise to everyday conversations, you’ll find these words easy to remember and use in the near future.

Daily Life Example

Take your time when speaking to people. Take note of the verbs they use, and try and repeat them back in different contexts. You can also do this from the comfort of your home by recording yourself or using an AI assistant.

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Past Perfect Verbs Frequently Asked Questions

The past perfect tense is a verb form typically used to describe an action that occurred prior to some moment in the past.

Common examples of past perfect tense include statements such as “He had already eaten dinner before they arrived” or “She had been painting before she heard the knock.” This tense can provide specific details about past events and enhance story-telling and understanding of past situations. For example, one might say “He had been feeling unwell for days before he realized he was sick with the flu.”

Other common examples might be “I had been wanting to go on holiday for years” or “We had been discussing the new policy for months before it was implemented.” This type of structure provides important information about past events, making it an invaluable tool for concise storytelling.

Past perfect is a verb tense used to refer to actions that happened in the past before another past action. It is also often used to show contrast or to signal mental movement from the past to the later past.

To form past perfect, we use had plus past participle. For example, ‘I had written the report before my computer crashed’. In this sentence, the report was written before something else happened – the computer crash. This emphasizes that one action occurred before the other and helps create relationships between past events for readers or listeners.

Teaching past perfect tense can be a tricky concept, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. The past perfect is used to refer to an action that happened before a reference point in the past and its formation follows the pattern of had + past participle. Use mnemonic devices or fun rhymes to help students remember how past perfect works, such as “Had gone for those done gone”.

Explaining past perfect in terms of stories or examples is also useful so that students can begin to contextualize past perfect sentences when they see them within other skills, like reading comprehension.

The past perfect simple tense is a verb tense used to indicate past actions or events that occurred before another past event or action. It is typically constructed with the past participle of the verbs and uses ‘had’ as an auxiliary verb.

This tense is usually used to show how past events might have affected a situation in the past but this can also be used in the narrative to describe a sequence of past events. The past perfect simple tense helps provide context and enhances clarity by distinguishing between past times and occurrences. Ultimately, it puts the past into perspective.

The past perfect tense is a combination of two past tenses and can be formed by using the auxiliary verb “have” and the past participle form of the main verb. For example, the past perfect tense of “eat” would be “had eaten.”

This tense is typically used in a more formal setting when expressing action sequences that have occurred and been completed at some point in the past but left results that are still relevant in the present. When using past perfect, it is important to keep track of the sequence of events as past perfect indicates an action having taken place before another action in past time.

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