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How to Use the Past Perfect Tense – Video

by Gina Mares on March 6, 2020 , Comments Off on How to Use the Past Perfect Tense – Video

In this lesson, you can learn about the past perfect verb form.

What does the past perfect mean? When do you need to use the past perfect? How do you use the past perfect verb tense correctly in a conversation? You’ll see the answers to these questions in this lesson.

QUIZ: How to Use the Past Perfect Tense

Now, test your knowledge of what you learned in the lesson by trying this quiz.

You will get your score at the end, when you can click on ‘View Questions’ to see all the correct answers.

1. Past Perfect Basics

Oli: How was the wedding?

Kasia: A disaster! I’ve never seen anything go so wrong.

O: Why? What happened?

K: First, they had booked a hall for the ceremony, but it was much too small. Only 30 people could go in, and everyone else had to wait outside.

O: Really? That’s weird.

K: I know! Surely they knew how many people they had invited? I guess not.

O: Sounds bad.

K: Yes, but that’s not all. They’d booked a restaurant for the reception, but they hadn’t told them how many people were coming. So, there wasn’t enough food, either!

O: That’s not good.

K: And then, as if that wasn’t enough, there were so many long, boring speeches! You could tell that no one had prepared their speeches, and they were just trying to improvise. It just went on and on.

O: So, you’re hungry and listening to boring speeches for hours? Doesn’t sound like much fun.

K: It wasn’t.

In the dialogue, you heard five examples of the past perfect. Can you remember them?

Here they are.

  • They had booked a hall for the ceremony.
  • Surely they knew how many people they had invited?
  • They’d booked a restaurant for the reception.
  • They hadn’t told them how many people were coming.
  • No one had prepared their speeches.

Pause the video to read if you need more time.

Think about two questions.

One: how do you form the past perfect?

Two: what’s the difference between the past perfect and the past simple?

First, how do you form the past perfect? You need ‘had’ or ‘hadn’t’ plus a past participle. For example, ‘had gone’, ‘hadn’t prepared’, and so on.

‘Had’ can be contracted to apostrophe-d. Be careful, because ‘would’ can also be contracted to ‘d.

In spoken language and in informal writing, you should generally use contractions. This is important, because if you don’t use the contractions, you won’t hear them when other people use them.

What about the second question? What’s the difference between the past perfect and the past simple?

To answer this, let’s look at an example from the dialogue.

  • They had booked a hall for the ceremony, but it was much too small.

Here, you have the past perfect and the past simple in the same sentence. Can you explain why?

In the dialogue, we were talking about two different times in the past.

First, Kasia was telling me about a wedding she went to. But, she also talked about things which happened – or didn’t happen – before the wedding.

She used the past simple to talk about the wedding itself. I used the past simple to ask questions. For example:

  • What happened?
  • Everyone else had to wait outside.
  • There wasn’t enough food.

I used the past perfect to talk about things which happened *before* the wedding. Look at the examples you saw before.

  • They had booked a hall for the ceremony.
  • Surely they knew how many people they had invited?
  • They’d booked a restaurant for the reception.
  • They hadn’t told them how many people were coming.
  • No one had prepared their speeches.

These are all things related to the preparations for the wedding, which took place earlier.

So, that’s the basic idea. You use the past perfect when you’re talking about the past, and you need to talk about something which happened – or didn’t – before the time in the past which you’re talking about.

Events that happened in sequence in the past

Let’s look at this idea in more detail.

2. Using the Past Perfect to Tell a Story

  • I’m going to tell you a story. This happened to me when I was twelve years old. I was on holiday with my family, and we were walking in a forest. My Dad had told me that there were bears in the forest, but I didn’t really take him seriously. I was walking in front; I turned a corner, and… there was a bear! I had never seen such a big animal in the wild before. I remembered something I had read about bears: you should stay calm and try to move away slowly. So, I walked backwards, very slowly. Luckily, the bear didn’t seem to care that I was there. Later, I felt scared, but at the time I didn’t feel anything – I guess because everything happened so quickly.

When you tell a story, you need to talk about several things that happened in a sequence.

For this, everything is simple. Use the past simple if you’re talking about things which happened one after another.

For example: ‘I bought a new car. I took it for a drive. I crashed it into a tree.’

However, you might want to talk about things which happened before the time of your story. This is where you use the past perfect.

Look at the text of the story.

There are three examples of past perfect verbs. Can you find them? Pause the video if you want time to look.

Here are the three past perfect verbs.

  • My Dad had told me that there were bears in the forest.
  • I had never seen such a big animal in the wild before.
  • I remembered something I had read about bears.

They all refer to things which happened – or didn’t happen – before the time of the story.

Timeline of events in the past: I bought a new car, I took it for a drive, I crashed it into a tree

So, this is a common reason to use the past perfect: you’re telling a story, and you need to refer back to times or events which happened *before* the time of the story.

Next, let’s look at when you might need the past perfect in an English conversation.

3. Using the Past Perfect in Conversation

Kasia: When did you start teaching?

Oli: Actually, it was kind of an accident. It was 2005. I had just graduated, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, I took a six-month teaching job, mostly because I wanted to live abroad and travel a bit.

K: So, you didn’t want to teach?

O: Not really! I had never considered it as a career.

K: Where did you move to?

O: Russia. I had studied a little bit of Russian at university, but not enough to really be able to do anything. So, I wanted to learn more, and also experience living in Russia.

K: Had you ever lived abroad before?

O: Briefly. I’d spent some time in Canada, but this was much more challenging.

In the dialogue, there were five examples with the past perfect. Did you hear them? Remember: you can go back and listen to the dialogue again if you want.

Often, when you have a conversation or tell a story, you’ll say something which fixes the time of the story. In the dialogue, the first question fixes the time: ‘When did you start teaching?’ In Oli’s answer, there’s a more specific time reference: ‘in 2005’.

That means that the conversation is about the time I started teaching: 2005. But, we also mentioned things that happened before that time.

Let’s practise this together. Look at four sentences from the dialogue.

  1. I had just graduated.
  2. I wanted to live abroad.
  3. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
  4. I’d spent some time in Canada.

A question: do these things refer to 2005, or before 2005?

Sentences two and three refer to the time we were discussing: 2005, when he started teaching.

Sentences one and four refer to an earlier time, before 2005.

You use the past perfect to talk about things which happened before the past time which you’re talking about.

When you’re telling a story or having a conversation, you might refer to several different points, which happened at different times. So, it’s common to jump between the past simple and past perfect, like you saw in the dialogue.

Here’s a good way to remember it: the past perfect is the ‘past in the past’. You use it when you’re already talking about the past, and you want to refer to something which is further in the past.

Timeline of starting teaching in 2005 and things that happened before this in the past

Many English learners understand these points, but they still have difficulties using the past perfect correctly. In the next section, let’s see why that is.

4. When the Past Perfect is (Un)necessary

Oli: Were you late for work *again*?

Kasia: Yeah…

O: What happened?

K: My alarm clock didn’t go off this morning.

O: So what time did you get there?

K: Around eleven.

O: Eleven?! Why did you wake up so late?

K: I couldn’t fall asleep last night. I probably only got four hours of sleep.

O: Did you go to bed late?

K: Not really. I think it was around twelve.

Did you hear the past perfect verb forms in the dialogue?

Trick question! There were no past perfect forms. But, why not?

In the dialogue, we refer to different time periods. We start by talking about being late for work, but then we talk about earlier time periods: the morning when Kasia woke up, and the previous evening. So, again, why not use the past perfect?

There are places in the dialogue where it is possible to use the past perfect, but it’s better not to.

The most important point is that the order of events, and when things happened, is clear.

For example, look at four lines from the dialogue.

  • So what time did you get there?
  • Around eleven.
  • Eleven?! Why did you wake up so late?
  • I couldn’t fall asleep last night. I probably only got four hours of sleep.

You could say ‘Why had you woken up so late?’, and ‘I had probably only got four hours of sleep’, but it’s not necessary, and it’s better not to – it sounds unnatural.

It’s not necessary because the order of events is clear from the context. Obviously, I woke up before I went to work. Equally obviously, I was asleep before I woke up.

When the order that things happened is clear, you don’t need to use the past perfect.

Another point: using the past perfect is generally less common in US English.

So, if you’re not sure whether to use the past perfect or not, ask yourself whether it’s necessary to make it clear what happened when. If not, use the past simple.

Sometimes, using the past perfect is necessary. Let’s see an example. Look at two sentences:

  • When I moved to the USA, I found a job.
  • When I moved to the USA, I had found a job.

These two sentences have different meanings. What’s the difference?

The first sentence means you moved to the USA first, and then you found a job, after you moved. The second sentence means you found a job before you moved.

In this case, it’s important to use the past perfect, because using the past simple changes the meaning.

That’s all. Thanks for watching!

Want more practice with tenses? Be sure to watch our other lesson on English Verb Tenses.

Gina MaresHow to Use the Past Perfect Tense – Video

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