Past perfect tense

Functions of the past perfect

The past perfect refers to a time earlier than before now. It is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past. It does not matter which event is mentioned first - the tense makes it clear which one happened first.

In these examples, Event A is the event that happened first and Event B is the second or more recent event:

Event A Event B
John had gone out when I arrived in the office.
Event A Event B
I had saved my document before the computer crashed.
Event B Event A
When they arrived we had already started cooking.
Event B Event A
He was very tired because he hadn't slept well.

Forming the past perfect

The Past Perfect tense in English is composed of two parts: the past tense of the verb to have (had) + the past participle of the main verb.

Subject had past participle
She had given
She hadn't asked.
Had they arrived?
Interrogative Negative
Hadn't you finished?
To decide, past perfect
Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I had decided I hadn't decided Had I decided?
You had decided You hadn't decided Had you decided?
She had decided She hadn't decided Had she decided?
We had decided We hadn't decided Had we decided?
They had decided They hadn't decided Had they decided?

Past perfect + just

'Just' is used with the past perfect to refer to an event that was only a short time earlier than before now, e.g.

  • The train had just left when I arrived at the station.
  • She had just left the room when the police arrived.
  • I had just put the washing out when it started to rain.