A Grain of Grammar: “When is the perfect time to use the perfect tense?” Part II

a grain of grammar 5

Last week we explained how to use the PRESENT PERFECT TENSE. To refresh your memory, here are two examples:

  1. “My Hollywood tour has started.” This means, “The tour has started and it is still going!”
  2. “The San Francisco bus has left.” This means, “The bus left just a moment ago.”

The PRESENT PERFECT is an event that began in the past and is still continuing. It is usually an unfinished action. Or, it could mean an action that just happened.

Are you now ready to use the PAST PERFECT TENSE?

 We use the PAST PERFECT TENSE to describe an event that happened before another event. It is always a completed action.

For example:

  1. “My Hollywood tour had already started when I began to feel sick.” This means that my tour started before I began to feel sick.
  2. “The San Francisco bus had left when I arrived at the bus stop.” This means that the bus left before I arrived. Therefore, you missed it!

You might ask, why can’t I just say: “The San Francisco bus left when I arrived at the bus stop.”

If you say “The San Francisco bus left when I arrived at the bus stop,” you are saying that the bus left or started leaving at the same time you arrived.

If it helps you remember, you can use the word “already” to clarify what you mean. For example:

  1. A crowd of people had already gathered when my friends arrived at the Disneyland entrance.
  2.  A crowd of people had gathered when my friends arrived at the Disneyland entrance.

Both are correct uses of PAST PERFECT and they mean the same thing.

Here are a few more examples:

  1. “By the time Cyril took his vacation trip, he had studied English in the USA for 3 months.” This means, “Cyril completed 3 months before he took his trip.”
  2. “Olga had already married when her youngest sister turned 10.” This means, “Olga married before her sister turned 10.”
  3. “I had worked my first job by the time I graduated from high school.” This means, “I worked my first job before I graduated from high school.”

Are you interested in more English grammar tips? Consider enrolling in one of our courses at EC Los Angeles!