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Advanced Level: Past Perfect

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The Past Perfect is formed with had + past participle

You had worked there before you moved to London.
Had you worked there before you moved to London?
You had not worked there before you moved to London.

1 The Past Perfect for an action before something in the past

The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It also shows an action that happened before a specific time in the past.

I had never been in the mountains before last January.
I couldn’t call anyone because I had lost my phone.
We couldn’t get a table because we had not booked a table in advance.

2 The Past Perfect for duration before something in the past

With non-continuous verbs the Past Perfect can be used to show the duration of something that started in the past and continued to a specific time in the past.

She had had the scooter for ten years before she bought a car.
By the time I got used to life in Milan, I had been there for five years.

It is important to remember that unlike the Present Perfect, the Past Perfect can be used with specific time phrases. This is not necessary but can be possible.

He had been to Berlin once in 1989 before he moved there in 1992.

However if the Past Perfect action did occur at a specific time, the Past Simple can be used instead when ‘before’ or ‘after’ are used, which is why both sentences below are good:

He had been to Berlin once in 1989 before he moved there in 1992.
He went to Berlin once in 1989 before he moved there in 1992
.

But remember that this is only possible if the Past Perfect is referring to an action at a specific time. If the reference is to experience then the Past Simple cannot be used.

He had never seen snow until he moved to Europe. NOT He never saw snow...

Adverbs such as: always, never, ever, still and just are placed after the auxiliary verb and before the past participle.
He had never been in a big city before he visited London.

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

Now complete the following using the correct form:

  • 1. When I arrived at the employment agency twenty other people _ before me.



  • 2. We were unlucky with the weather in Switzerland, They _ a blizzard in years but we were snowed in for most of the week.



  • 3. Peter was late for the meeting and was angry we _ without him.



  • 4. Sarah finished her studies before she _ to India for a year.



  • 5. I saw that most people _ the party when I arrived.



  • 6. When we got the bill, Danny _ on paying.



  • 7. Mark _ the day before that he would be the one who told John the bad news.



  • 8. Tony _ with the company for five years before he quit and went with their rivals.