Past Perfect Tense in English Grammar

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Any action or event of past that was started and finished is regarded as Past Perfect Tense. In a word, it indicates a completed action or event of past. Past perfect tense also indicates two events or actions of past. We use this tense to express the completed actions in past.


However, now, I am going to discuss over the characteristics and usages of Past Perfect Tense in this lesson along with its structural patterns both in negative and interrogative sentences and the various usages of it. It is 8th lesson on the All Tenses in English.

I have discussed before Present Perfect Tense. If you have not read that lesson, you should read that first for the better understanding of this lesson.

Here are some sentences in present perfect tense:
The boy had joined in the game last year.
I had bought a pair of shoes for him.
He had designed this building.
We had given him the book before he went to Dhaka.
(Here, two actions of past are described together)


The structure of Past Perfect Tense can be two types.
One indicates a single action in the past and another one indicates two actions of past.

Structure 01: Had+ past participle form of verb (v.p.p.f)

Structure 02: Subject+ had+ (v.p.p.f)+ (before/after)+ subject+ past form of verb+ object.

I hope, you have no problem in case of 1st structure but there is something different in case of the second structure. Yes, it’s natural and you have to understand the functions of the two actions or events in the past. I will discuss the fact after the negative and interrogative forms.


Now, follow the negative and interrogative structures of past perfect tense.

Negative Structure:

(had+ not+ past participle form of verb)
I had not bought a pair of shoes for him.
So, you just have to add ‘not’ after the auxiliary verbs-‘had’ and it will be transformed into negative sentence.

Interrogative Structure:

(had+ subject+ past participle form of verb+ object+?)
Had i bought a pair of shoes for him?
Now, it is time to learn the structure of two actions or events in the past in Past Perfect Tense.

”2 Actions or Events in Past”

Time IndicationIn the past, if two actions or events occurred one after another, you have the express the first action or event in the structure of Past Perfect Tense and the second action in the structure of Past Indefinite Tense. In this case, for joining these actions or events together, you must use the conjunction ‘before/after’. I will tell you some steps through which you can easily translate these sentences.

Step-01: At first, notice the actions and find out which action happened first and which action happened later.
(a.) The action that happened first will be translated into past perfect tense.
(b.) And the action that happened later will be translated into past indefinite tense

Step-02: Now, during translating, you will always start with the sentence written at last. You will translate that last sentence according to the structure.

Step-03: If the structure of first sentence is in past perfect tense, the conjunction ‘before’ will be used but if the structure of first sentence is in past indefinite tense, the conjunction ‘after’ will be used.
Now see these examples:
He had bought the bag before I went to market.
He bought the bag after I had gone to market.
We had started our journey for Dhaka before he reached in Rajshahi.

Variations in Past Perfect Tense

Variation-01: In case of happening two actions in the past, the 2nd action may start before completing the 1st action entirely. In order to express such situation, we use some phrases in the structure of Past Perfect Tense. Here are the phrases in the chart:

No sooner had……..than
Hardly had……..when
Scarcely had……..when

Have you noticed one thing?
In these phrases, we get a different and exceptional structure of auxiliary verb in the sentence. Yes, the auxiliary verb ‘had’ is placed before the subject in the sentence. This is an exceptional usage of auxiliary verb in case of position.
No sooner had I touched the bird than it flew away.
Hardly had the teacher entered into classroom when the students stood up.

When we indicate two actions of past, we connect two actions with the conjunctions- ‘before/after’. But, in some other cases, we use the conjunctions- ‘till/until/now that/no sooner’. Then, the sentence containing the phrase will be in past indefinite structure but the another one will be in past indefinite tense.
We refused to meet him till we had known him well.

So, now study the lesson and the variations of Past Perfect Tense carefully. Because, in this tense, we have faced a different structure of double actions for the first time. I hope, you will easily learn Past Perfect Tense if you try your best. For practicing , you can have a test on this Exercise page for better output. That’s all for today.