Past perfect, form

The Past Perfect tense in English is composed of two parts: the past tense of the verb to have (had) + the past participle of the main verb.

Subjecthadpast participle
Interrogative negative

Example: to decide, Past perfect

I had decidedI hadn’t decidedHad I decided?
You had decidedYou hadn’t decidedHad you decided?
He, she, it had decidedHe hadn’t decidedHad she decided?
We had decidedWe hadn’t decidedHad we decided?
You had decidedYou hadn’t decidedHad you decided?
They had decidedThey hadn’t decidedHad they decided?

Past perfect, function

The past perfect refers to a time earlier than before now. It is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past. It does not matter which event is mentioned first – the tense makes it clear which one happened first.

In these examples, Event A is the first or earliest event, Event B is the second or latest event:

Event B Event B

a.John had gone outwhen I arrived in the office.
Event AEvent B
b.had saved my documentbefore the computer crashed.
Event AEvent B
c.When they arrivedwe had already started cooking
Event BEvent A
d.He was very tiredbecause he hadn’t slept well.
Event BEvent A

Past perfect + just

‘Just’ is used with the past perfect to refer to an event that was only a short time earlier than before now, e.g.

  • The train had just left when I arrived at the station.
  • She had just left the room when the police arrived.
  • had just put the washing out when it started to rain.