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Past Perfect

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.

Defining the past perfect state

The past perfect is one of the main verb tenses in the English language. You use it to express an action that has taken place and been completed in the past. Structurally, the past perfect is formed through the conjunction of the helping verb "had" and the past participle form of a given verb. Every past perfect construction follows this basic structural pattern.

When using the past perfect, the main things to worry about are: one, that the situation does actually call for its use; and two, that you have formed the past participle correctly.  

Using the term correctly

For your reference, here is an example of the past perfect construction being used correctly within a sentence. 

"He was nervous that he would perform poorly on his exam, due to the fact that he had not slept very well the previous night." 

In this sentence, "had not slept" is a correct past perfect construction. 

Now, here is an example of the past perfect construction being used in an incorrect way

"The man had running eight miles the previous evening; this explained why his legs were aching today." 

In this sentence, the present participle "running" has been incorrectly used in the place of the past participle "run". 

In case you would still like more information about the past perfect, here are a couple rules you can follow when you are making use of it. 

  1. Like all perfect forms, the past perfect form is used to express a completed action. The past perfect, in particular, expresses an action that both began and ended sometime in the past. So, when you are trying to decide whether to use the past perfect, this is the basic question that you should ask yourself. 
  2. The past perfect always follows the exact same structural pattern: the helping verb "had", followed by the past participle form of the relevant verb. This is quite straightforward; and once you get the hang of the past perfect, you probably won't make mistakes when using it. The hard part is really just deciding whether this is the tense you're looking for.  

Past Perfect - One of three perfect tenses

The past perfect is one of the three perfect forms within English—the other two being the present perfect and the future perfect. What the past perfect has in common with these other tenses is: one, all three tenses express completed action; and two, all three tenses make use of the past participle. What makes the past perfect different from the others, though, is that it specifically makes use of the helping verb "had". In contrast, the present perfect uses "has", and the future perfect uses "will have". The past perfect, then, has its own unique and characteristic structure, just like the other perfect forms. 

The past perfect differs from all progressive forms in that it makes use of not the present participle but rather the past participle. It also differs from the past progressive itself in that it uses the helping verb "had" instead of "was". The past perfect can thus be conceptualized as occupying a verb specific niche among the various tenses. It is like all the other past tenses in that it expresses an action that occurred in the past; but it is like all the other perfect tenses in that it conveys a completed action. 

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