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We are going to take a look at a verb tense, a perfect tense: the Past Perfect. We’ve introduced this tense in class this week, so we thought it would be helpful to go over it again and in greater detail.

We use the Past Perfect when there are two actions in the past, one before the other. We can use it when we want to specify that one action happened first, before the other. Having said this, it’s very common to use the Past Perfect together with the Past Simple. In general, these sentences follow this simple arrangement:

—Past Perfect (first action) + Past Simple (action that happened after the first one)—

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Let’s look at a couple examples:

~ Dale had worked as a mechanic before he started working at the German school.

(First action: working as a mechanic. Second action: working at the German school.)
(First action: Past Perfect. Second action: Past Simple.)

~ The Vietnamese had already fought the French before they fought the Americans.

(First action: fighting the French. Second action: fighting the Americans.)
(First action: Past Perfect. Second action: Past Simple.)


As we can see in both of the above examples, we can use these two tenses together to communicate that two actions happened in the past, one before the other. When considering the order of the tenses within a sentence, it’s not always necessary to put the Past Perfect clause first. For example:

~ When I got to work, I had already been awake for several hours.

We can also use the Past Perfect on its own in a sentence. However, this is only possible when we have referenced another past action immediately before it. Let’s see this in an example:

~ I was twenty years old when I moved to London. I had only lived in small towns before then.

In this case, we still have the same basic foundation (Past Perfect together with Past Simple), but it’s spread across two sentences.

That’s all, folks! If you would like to practice the Past Perfect in action, try the exercise below.


A. Edstrom

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