Past Perfect Tense

Past Perfect tense is a tense used to describe an action that happened before another action in the past.

Level: Intermediate

What is past perfect tense?

You have read that the past perfect tense is a verb tense used to indicate an action that was completed before another past action.

It is often used to establish a clear sequence of events in the past.

Form: Subject + had + past participle of the main verb

Use of Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is used to express an action that occurred before another action or a specific time in the past. The past perfect refers the time up to then. 

1. Past before Past

We use the past perfect when we want to describe an action that happened before another past action.

  1. She had already eaten dinner when I arrived. [In this sentence, "had eaten" (past participle of "eat") indicates that the action of eating dinner was completed before the action of arriving.]
  2. She had already finished her homework before dinner. [The action of finishing homework happened before the action of having dinner.]
  3. By the time I arrived, they had already left. [The action of leaving happened before the action of my arrival.]

In these examples, the Past Perfect tense (had + past participle) is used to indicate that an action was completed before another action in the past.

Note the use of the linking words after and before.

  • Past Perfect + before + Past Simple
  • Past Simple + after + Past Perfect

2. Reported Speech

When reporting something someone said in the past, if the reported speech refers to an earlier past event, you can use the past perfect.

  1. He said that he had seen the movie before.
  2. She told me that she had already visited that place.

3. Unreal or Hypothetical Past Events

We use the past perfect in third conditional sentences which express unreal or hypothetical situations in the past:

  1. They would have won the match if they had scored the penalty.
  2. If she had studied sincerely, she would have passed the test. 

Past Perfect Tense Worksheet

1. Fill in the gaps with the correct simple past or  past perfect tense form of the verbs in brackets.

  1. When I arrived at the cinema, the movie (already, start) __________.
  2. She was exhausted because she (work) __________ all day.
  3. By the time we reached the restaurant, they (finish) __________ serving lunch.
  4. They couldn't find their keys because they (misplace) __________ them earlier.
  5. He was upset because he (lose) __________ his wallet.
  6. After he (read) __________ the book, he returned it to the library.
  7. By the time the firefighters arrived, the neighbors (call) __________ for help.
  8. We were late to the party because our car (break down) __________ on the way.
  9. By the time I (arrive) __________ at the airport, the flight had already departed.
  10. She couldn't find her keys because she (misplace) __________ them earlier.
  11. Before the storm hit, they (secure) __________ all the windows and doors.
  12. He was exhausted because he (work) __________ non-stop for the past 12 hours.
  13. After they (eat) __________ lunch, they went for a walk in the park.
  14. By the time the guests arrived, the host (prepare) __________ a delicious meal.
  15. The students were well-prepared because they (review) __________ the material beforehand.

2. Fill in the gaps with the correct simple past or past perfect tense form of the verbs from the word bank below.

  1. By the time I got to the party, she __________  her favorite song on the piano.
  2. They couldn't watch the movie because they__________  their tickets at home.
  3. Before the concert started, the band __________  for several hours.
  4. She was really hungry because she __________  dinner yet.
  5. He was tired because he __________  all night for the exam.
  6. When I called, they __________  the soccer match on TV.
  7. The students were excited because they __________  all the required readings.

Answers to Question 1

  1. had already started
  2. had been working
  3. had finished
  4. had misplaced
  5. had lost
  6. had read
  7. had called
  8. had broken down
  9. had arrived
  10. had misplaced
  11. had secured
  12. had been working
  13. had eaten
  14. had prepared
  15. had reviewed

    Answers to Question 2

    1. had played
    2. had left
    3. had been playing
    4. hadn't cooked
    5. had studied
    6. were playing
    7. had finished