Fun with Past Perfect Tense


Vision 75

Fun with Past Perfect Tense


Connie Cockrell

Copyright © 2014, Connie Cockrell, All Rights Reserved

Have you had a critique or an editor write back to you with the comment, "You confused your Past Perfect with your Present Tense"? Maybe some variation on the comment, designed to help you get your tenses straight in your story. It's happened to me. A critique was sent saying I used Past Perfect tense in the wrong place.

I've said it before; high school English classes were a long time ago. I had to look this up. My first thought was that the English language is overly complicated. Well, on second thought it's the same as any other knowledge form, there are names for everything. If I want to be a writer, a good writer, I need to know the names of the word forms I'm using. Right?

So, I pulled up the internet with my favorite browser and searched on Past Perfect Tense. Several links came up on the screen. The first page I looked at was

The first thing it told me was that the Form of Past Perfect tense is had + past participle. Wonderful, what's a Past Participle?

That search took me to This article started off with a definition. "A past participle indicates past or completed action or time. It's often called the 'ed' form as it is formed by adding d or ed, to the base form of regular verbs, however it is also formed other ways for irregular verbs."

Fair enough. Add 'ed' to a verb, such as, like to liked, or for irregular verbs, ride to rode. So what about the Past Perfect tense?

The English Page site had examples and diagrams, as well as definitions but it made the answer more complicated to me than it seemed necessary. I did like the fact that this page talked about adverb placement and had examples of using the past perfect tense in both active and passive voice. I'll get to that in a bit.

I thought a better; more easily understood site was These definitions and explanations boiled down simply. Past Perfect tense is built with the helping verb, had. Present Perfect tense uses the helping verbs: has and have. Future Perfect verbs use the helping verbs: will have and shall have.

Let's stay with Past Perfect tense. Using the first site's definition of using had + present participle, we get the following examples.

Example: Joy had shoveled the hole in the garden a week ago.

Example: Tom had walked the whole distance from town to his house before Joy could get there.

By these examples we see that the Past Perfect tense shows the idea that an action occurred before another action in the past.

It's important to understand that the past has to be an action at a specific time, not an experience. The English Page makes this clear with their examples.

Example: Vaughn never saw a bear before he moved to Canada. Not Correct

Example: Vaughn had never seen a bear before he moved to Canada. Correct

You can certainly use adverbs in Past Perfect tense. At least as much as you would use any adverb in your fiction writing. Again, had, is the key. These examples are also from The English Page.

Example: You had previously studied English before you moved to Payson.

Example: Had you previously studied English before you moved to Payson?

'Had studied' is the Past Perfect while 'previously' is the adverb. Other grammar adverbs such as: Never, Always, Ever, Still, Just, could be used in the spot where 'previously' is used. Again, at least as much as a writer would do so in a work of fiction.

Finally, Past Perfect can be either active or passive voice.

Example: Sherri had written many poems before she published her first book. (Active)

Example: Many poems had been written by Sherri before she published her first book. (Passive)

I hope that's helped you a little bit. Don't let the names of the forms intimidate you. As you can see, Past Perfect tense is actually very easy to understand. If you'd like to delve into this topic more, see the links below or type the subject into your search engine. You'll get a lot of links to read until you find the one that explains it the best way for you. Happy learning!

Links Used in this article: