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Lesson 2.1

Past Perfect

El pluscuamperfecto
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The past perfect is used for actions or events that happened in the past before another action or event in the past.

Grammatical Rules

Form

Like the present perfect, the past perfect is formed using the auxiliary verb “to have” (in the past simple form) as well as the past participle.

Subject Auxiliar Short Form Past Participle
I, you, he, she, it, we, they had I’d, you’d, he’d, she’d, it’d, we’d, they’d studied, visited, worked…

Note: Be careful, as the contraction “-’d” is also used with the modal verb “would” to form the conditional. As such, the short form “I’d” can mean either “I had” or “I would”. These two contractions are distinguished by the form of the principal verb that follows them. If we mean “I had”, the principal verb is in the past participle form, whereas with the conditional, “would” is followed by the verb in the infinitive. For more information, see the lesson on conditional sentences.

Note: Be careful, as the contraction “-’d” is also used with the modal verb “would” to form the conditional. As such, the short form “I’d” can mean either “I had” or “I would”. These two contractions are distinguished by the form of the principal verb that follows them. If we mean “I had”, the principal verb is in the past participle form, whereas with the conditional, “would” is followed by the verb in the infinitive. For more information, see the lesson on conditional sentences.

Structure

1. Affirmative Sentences

Subject + “had” + past participle…

Examples:

 I had [I’d] visited the Louvre before, so I knew where the Mona Lisa was.
 They had [They’d] studied English before they went to London.
 Henry changed careers because he had [he’d] worked as an accountant for many years and was bored.

2. Negative Sentences

Subject + “had” + past participle…

Examples:

 I had not [hadn’t] visited the Louvre before so I didn’t know where the Mona Lisa was.
 They had not [hadn’t] studied English before they went to London.
 Henry changed careers even though he had not [hadn’t] worked as an accountant for long.

3. Interrogative Sentences

“Had” + subject + past participle…?

Examples:

 How did you know where the Mona Lisa was? Had you visited the Louvre before?
 Had they studied English before they went to London?
 Had Henry worked as an accountant for long before he changed careers?

Uses

1. We use the past perfect to refer to an event that began in the past and before another action or event in the past. The action or event that that happened first is in the past perfect and the one that follows in the past simple.

Examples:

 I’d read the book before I saw the movie.
 Donna had just left when you called.
 Had you ever flown before the trip to France?

2. The past perfect is used for actions or events that happened before a specific time in the past.

Examples:

 I had already woken up when the alarm clock rang at 7am.
 He hadn’t been to France before the trip in 2008.

3. As with the present perfect, we also use the past perfect simple for situations that began in the past and continued to a specific point in time in the past, as we cannot use the continuous tenses with certain verbs.

Examples:

 She had only owned one car before she bought her new BMW.
 I’d been depressed for a long time before I changed jobs.

Note: See the list of verbs that we cannot use in the continuous tenses.

Note: See the list of verbs that we cannot use in the continuous tenses.

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