Past perfect tense

Past perfect tense

By Alena Lien, 

28 January 2021

Click below to expand each section. 


Affirmative sentences

[subject] + ["had"] + [past participle of verb]

Please note: The contraction "I'd" can also mean "I would."

Context will usually inform you if it's "had" or "would." Otherwise the past participle usually follows "had," and not "would."

Conjugations of "had" and their contracted forms:

I had =           I'd

You had =     You'd

He had =      He'd

She had =    She'd

We had =    We'd

They had = They'd

It had =        It'd

It is also possible to have the verb "have" as both the auxiliary and main verb.

  • "I'd had enough to eat by the time my date arrived."

  • "She'd finished the cookies before I could have some."

Negative sentences

[subject] + ["had not"] + [past participle of verb]

  • "I looked through the crowd and realised he hadn't arrived yet."

  • "They hadn't completed the renovations by the time we returned from our holiday."


["had"] + [subject] + [past participle of verb]

[question words] + ["had"] + [subject] + [past participle of verb]

Question words are:

  • Who

  • What

  • When

  • Why

  • Where

  • Which

  • How

Please note: Questions in the past perfect are not that common in everyday English. Native speakers will often use other tenses and idiomatic phrases to ask the same thing.

  • "Had he given much thought to the surgery?"

  • "How long had she worked in the retail industry before this job?"

It is possible to make negative questions even though their use is quite specific. The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different.

Contracted form:

["hadn't"] + [subject] + [past participle of verb]

[question word] + ["hadn't"] + [subject] + [past participle of verb]

  • "Hadn't he given much thought to the surgery?"

  • "Why hadn't she worked in the retail industry before this job?"

Full form:

["had"] + [subject] + ["not"] + [past participle of verb]

[question word] + ["had"] + [subject] + ["not"] + [past participle of verb]

  • "Had he not given much thought to the surgery?"

  • "Why had she not worked in the retail industry before this job?"

Dynamic vs Static verbs


For perfect tenses, it is useful for ask, "Until this point, what happened?"

Although we use the past perfect tense to talk about events that happened in the past, it might be easier to focus on the timeline.



1.   To refer to previous experiences that happened before a certain point in the past.

Usually the "certain point" is specified or referred to.

  • "We'd tried the steak here before they changed chefs."

  • "She'd never seen Star Wars until we met."

2.   To refer to past statements or assumptions about the past.

In reported/indirect speech.

Past: "I drove to work this morning."

Present: "He said he had driven to work this morning."

+   Cognitive and perception verbs.

  • "I thought you had forgotten to buy a gift for mum."

  • "I heard he'd tried to apply for a job but was rejected."

3.   To refer to changed states - when the change occurred at some point in the past.

  • "I decided to study accounting in university but I had wanted to be a teacher in secondary school."

  • "We had planned to go to Perth but the lockdown happened."

4.   Used with "if" in conditional sentences when a different past is imagined.

  • "If I had been there earlier, I would have seen you before you left."

  • "I would have given her a call if I had known she was sick."

More verb tenses