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

The Past Perfect Tense (I had played)

Feel free to leave a comment if you find any errors or if you have any suggestions to make to improve this lesson.

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.
  • 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

👉 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.

👉 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.

👉 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

👉 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.

👉 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)

👉 A few words often used with the past perfect:

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


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