The Past Perfect Tense

We use the past perfect tense to describe an action that occurred in the past before another
action happened.

  • When you came home, Mario had already left. 
  • She quit her job, but she had saved enough money for her trip. 
  • I was taking a shower when she had called. 
  • When he got home he had found out that someone had broken into his home. 
  • I was playing baseball when it had started to rain. 
  • They didn’t want to go with us because they had already seen the movie. 
  • We didn’t go to dinner because we had already eaten. 

Notice that in the above examples that one action was in progress or finished before another action occurred.

  • You came home but Mario had already left.
    (Mario left before you came home.)
  • She quit her job but she had saved enough money for her trip.
    (She saved enough money for her trip before she quit her job.)
  • I was taking a shower when you had called.
    (I was in the process of taking a shower.)
  • When he got home he found out someone had broken into his home.
    (Someone broke into his home before he knew about it.)
  • I was playing baseball when it had started to rain.
    (I was in the process of playing baseball and later it started to rain.)
  • They didn’t want to go with us because they had already seen the movie.
    (They saw the movie before we asked them to go with us.)
  • We didn’t go to dinner because we had already eaten.
    (We ate before someone asked us to go to dinner with them.)

To intensify the action we often use the word “already” in the affirmative and “yet” in the negative.

  • I had already eaten when they asked me to dinner.  (affirmative)
  • I hadn’t eaten yet when they asked me to dinner.  (negative)
  • Hector had already finished his homework when his friend arrived.  (affirmative)
  • Hector hadn’t finished his homework yet when his friend arrived.  (negative)
  • She had already been shopping when the store had the sale.  (affirmative)
  • She hadn’t been shopping yet when the store had the sale. (negative) 

We often use the word “never” when using the past tense in negative.

  • I had never been to Spain before. 
  • You had never met her. 
  • She had never flown before. 
  • He had never seen her at the party. 
  • It had never rained this hard before. 
  • They had never sent us a letter. 
  • We had never eaten so much in our lives. 
 Subject  + Had  + Past Participle  + Complementizer
 before coming here. 
 there before. 
 him many times before. 
 several times. 
 a lot in those days. 
 the gifts already. 
 before the competition. 
 each other once. 

It’s sometimes easy to confuse the present perfect with the past perfect.

Look at the examples below and compare:

Present Perfect Past Perfect
Who is that guy? 
Who was that guy? 
I don’t know, I’ve never met him. 
I don’t know, I hadn’t met him. 
We aren’t tired, we’ve slept a lot. 
We weren’t tired, we’d slept a lot.
She is angry at him, he’s cheated on her. 
She was angry at him, he  had cheated on her.
They are tired now, they have traveled for a long time. 
They were tired, they had traveled for a long time.