Teaching the Past Perfect

We have already dealt with the Present Perfect and the Present Perfect Progressive.

It's time for the Past Perfect.

The structure is simple and all the information is implied in the name. Since it is a perfect tense, we know we need the helping verb: HAVE. Since it is a Past tense (Past Perfect), we know we need the Past of the helping verb Have – HAD.

And what must come right after the helping verb HAD?


This might be the right time to remind our students that the third form of the verb is like the Past Simple as far as Regular Verbs are concerned.

Regarding Irregular Verbs, the third form refers to the third column in the list of Irregular Verbs.

  In short: had + v3

   e.g., When I got home, the kids had already gone to bed.

And most important of all: When do we use this tense?

When we have two actions in the Past and one happens before the other, the one that happened before takes the Past Perfect and the one that happened later takes the Past Simple.

    e.g., When I got to the station, the train had already left.



1. Sometimes we use only the Past Simple even though one action happened before the other:

    When I came home, I ate dinner.

    I ate dinner before I went out.

    I forgave Dan after he apologized.

The reason we have used the Past Simple in all these cases is that the order of the actions is clear. We don't need the Past Perfect since we know which action happened before the other (the words when, before, after show us the order of the actions).

2. I met Dan at the party and I immediately felt better.

    I saw him, but I did not recognize him.

The words and and but separate two sentences. Therefore, we actually have only one verb in each sentence and it will come in the Past Simple.

3. When I opened the door, I saw that somebody had cleaned the house, friends had brought flowers and gifts and the family had prepared a lot of food.

If there are more than two verbs in the sentence and we can separate the actions into two periods of time, all the actions that happened before will take the Past Perfect and all the actions that happened later will take the Past Simple.

However, in the following example, we will use only the Past Simple since we have a few actions that happened one after the other. We don't have two periods of time, but many periods of time. We call these actions: Steps in a story. They all come in the Past Simple.

    Yesterday I woke up at seven, I got dressed, drank coffee, checked my e-mails, made a few phone calls and drove to the office.

And that's all folks!

Next time, we will study the Past Perfect Progressive.

Have a great week! 

For further explanations, please see:

דקדוק אנגלי לדוברי עברית, עמ'64-66 

For practice, please see:

The New Language Guidebook and Workbook, p 49-53. 

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