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Weekly Grammar Question: Is the Past Perfect as simple as it seems?

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I can’t count the number of times over the years that students have said something along the lines of: “Teacher teacher, I don’t understand the present and past perfect, it’s too difficult”.

Now, the present perfect can be quite tricky to get your head around for a number of reasons. The main one being that there are a variety of different uses and also that while there is a version of the present perfect in many languages, it is slightly different in English, which can be confusing.

The Past Perfect, however, is great! It has one use and it doesn’t really change. It’s also not as common as the Present Perfect and isn’t as big a deal. So, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all fine. Check out the examples and explanations below for more info on how we use it.


I didn’t eat a curry for two months. My wife cooked a curry. I came home from work the other day and saw the curry. I ate it very quickly and it was absolutely delicious. 

what do you think of this story? Is it interesting or boring? Clearly, it’s ridiculously boring. It’s also incredibly unnatural. When we tell stories, we like to make them more interesting by changing the order of events so that the listener/reader is kept interested. We also think of pieces of information while we are speaking/writing and we add them in as we think of them. These pieces of information often happened before the actions we’ve already talked about.

This is when we need the Past Perfect. We use it when we’re telling stories to describe actions or situations that happened before the story or before other actions in the story.

Compare the story above with the one below. Which one do you prefer? Which one sounds more natural?

I came home from work the other day and saw that my wife had made a curry for me. I hadn’t eaten a curry for months so I ate it really quickly. It was absolutely delicious.

Past Perfect:

Form: had + Past participle

Use: The past before the past.

If you’re interested in learning more about grammar, check out our Learn English website for over 2000 quick lessons.

If you’d like to book an English course for adults, check out details on our English Courses in London Covent Garden website.

If you’d like to try a traditional “English” curry, why not go to Brick Lane, which is famous for it’s curry houses.

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