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The Past Perfect

You may have a good grasp of the present perfect tense, and have also read our previous newsletter on the past continuous tense. This week, however, we are going to talk about the past perfect, also known as the pluperfect.


Similar to the past continuous (was/were + verb in -ing form), the past perfect is very helpful when we are putting events that occurred in the past in chronological order. It is formed with had + past participle, so, for example, to give becomes had given, to go becomes had gone, and to write becomes had written.


The King asked her what had given her such a fright.

Caption 42, Fairy Tales - The Frog King

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From the sentence above, we know that whatever scared the princess occurred before the king asked her about it. And unlike the phrase what was giving her such a fright, the phrase what had given her such a fright with the past perfect tells us that the action is finished, in other words she is no longer scared.


Now look at the example below, in which a reporter asks Prince Harry a question about Meghan Markle:


So, how much did you, Prince Harry, know about Meghan?

Had you seen her on TV?

Captions 68-69, BBC News - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

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The construction had + past participle informs us that the reporter is asking about something that happened before Harry and Meghan met. Additionally, while using the simple past (did you see) would refer to watching Meghan on TV on a regular basis, the past perfect (had you seen) asks whether it ever happened in Harry's life, even one time.

Take a look at two more examples and determine which action occurred first. Note the contraction he'd in the second example, which is a combination of he and had rather than he and would


After everyone had gone, she was alone in the house.

Caption 29, Fairy Tales - Cinderella

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In his new role, he visited many EU countries he'd previously condemned.

Caption 43, Boris Johnson - The UK's New Controversial Prime Minister

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Further Learning
In addition to keeping your eye out for more examples of the past perfect on Yabla English, you can make a list of verbs in their infinitive form and make sure you know the past participle of each one. Refer to our previous lesson on expressing the conditional in English, which covers the use of the past perfect in the creation of Conditional III.   

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