What is the Past Perfect tense? (I had played)

The Past Perfect Tense (I had played)

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The perfect past (sometimes called pluperfect) is used when we want to talk about two successive past events, i.e. to talk about an action that took place before another past action.

1/ Construction

subject + had (=have to the past simple) +¬†past participle (worked, been, gone…)

 Affirmative Negative Question
¬†I¬†/¬†you¬†/¬†we¬†/¬†they ¬† ¬†I had played ¬†I had not¬†(hadn’t) played ¬†Had I played¬†?_
¬†he¬†/¬†she¬†/¬†it¬† ¬†He had played_ ¬†He had not¬†(hadn’t) played_ ¬†Had he played¬†?_


  • (+) She had studied Japanese before she moved to Tokyo.
  • (?) Had she studied¬†Japanese before she moved to Tokyo¬†?
  • (-) She had¬†not¬†studied¬†Japanese before she moved to Tokyo.

2/ Use

* When two actions have taken place at different times in the past

The perfect past is used to talk about the action that happens first, and the simple past (= preterit) for the second.

  • The bus¬†had¬†already¬†left¬†when Tom¬†arrived¬†at the bus stop.
  • We watched a horror movie¬†after the kids¬†had gone¬†to bed.
  • By the time Tina¬†finished shopping, John¬†had been¬†at the bar for one hour.
  • I¬†had¬†never¬†eaten such a good sushi before I went to Japan.
  • I did not have any money because I¬†had lost¬†my wallet.
  • Sarah¬†knew¬†Sydney well because she¬†had visited¬†the city many times.
  • Had Paul studied¬†english before he moved to the USA?
  • He was not able to get a ticket for the show because he hadn’t booked¬†in advance.
  • She checked with the post office and they still hadn’t received her package.
  • I had eaten dinner before they arrived.

* To express a hypothetical past, with if (to talk about things that could have happened)

  • If John¬†had been able to¬†drive a car, he¬†would have¬†gone home earlier.
  • If I hadn’t drunk¬†so much coffee, I would have slept last night.

* To express regret (with ‘wish’ or ‘If only’)

  • If only I¬†had¬†invited¬†her to the cinema.
  • If I¬†had known, I wouldn’t have come.
  • I wish¬†he¬†hadn’t¬†failed¬†his driving exam.
  • He wishes he¬†hadn’t bought¬†that car.
  • She wishes she¬†had stayed in Miami longer.
  • I wish I¬†had done¬†scuba diving when I went to Indonesia.

* For indirect speech, when you want to tell what someone said, thought or believed (often with the verbs said, told, thought, explained, asked, wondered, believed…)

  • ‘I¬†have seen… ¬†‘ => ¬† ¬†He said he¬†had seen…
  • ‘I¬†lost¬†my wallet’ => ¬† ¬†She said she¬†had lost her wallet.
  • She told us that the bus had left.
  • I thought¬†we had already decided to go to Paris this summer.
  • He explained that he¬†had locked¬†the window because of the thieves.
  • I wondered if she had seen¬†this movie before.
  • I asked him why he had¬†bought this house.
  • They told me they had already paid the bill.

3/ Notes

ūüĎČ Past perfect +¬†just

We use the past perfect past with ‘just’ to say that something has just happened recently:

  • The train had just left¬†when we arrived at the station.
  • She¬†had just left¬†the room when she heard a noise.
  • He had just washed the car when it started to rain.

ūüĎČ With ‘when’:

  • When you were born, the internet hadn’t already been created.
  • When I finished high school, I hadn’t learnt to drive a car yet.
  • When I went to the bar, they had already been drinking a lot.

ūüĎČ With ‘before’ / ‘after’:

If the perfect pastoral action occurred at a specific time and’before’ or’after’ are used in the sentence, it can be replaced by the past simple:

  • He¬†had visited¬†Melbourne once in 2011 before he moved there in 2013.¬†
  • = He¬†visited¬†Melbourne¬†once in 2011 before he moved there in 2013.

BUT if the perfect past tense does not correspond to an action passed at a specific time, the simple past tense cannot be used:

  • He never¬†saw¬†a kangaroo before he moved to Australia.¬†faux
  • He¬†had¬†never¬†seen¬†a kangaroo before he moved to Australia.¬†ok

ūüĎČ Had + had

  • We¬†had had¬†that car for two years before it broke down.
  • I wish I had had more girlfriends when I was young.

ūüĎČ The active / passive voice:

  • Nathan¬†had created¬†many websites before he started his business. (Active)
  • Many websites¬†had been created¬†by Nathan before he started his business. (Passive)

ūüĎČ A few words often used with the past perfect:

already, just, before, when, by the time,¬†once, twice, three times…


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