The past perfect tense

Affirmative Negative Question
I had written.
She had written.
You had written.
I had not written.
She had not written.
You had not written.
Had I written?
Had she written?
Had you written?

Uses of the past perfect tense

to refer to the ‘earlier past’

The past perfect tense denotes an action completed at some point in the past before some other past action commenced. When two actions in the past have to be referred to, the past perfect is used for the earlier action and the simple past for the later one.

  • I had seen him twice before he left for New York.
  • The train had left before I reached the station.
  • The patient had died before the doctor came.
  • She had left before I reached home.

Note that we can use time conjunctions (e.g. after, before, as soon as) to talk about two actions or events that happen one after the other. Usually the past perfect is not necessary in these cases, though it can be used.

  • After he (had) finished his exam, he went to London.
  • As soon as I (had) put the phone down, it rang again.
to talk about unrealized hopes and wishes

The past perfect can be used to talk about an unrealized hope, wish etc.

  • I had hoped that Ann would be a doctor, but she wasn’t good at science.
to talk about past events that did not happen

After if, wish and would rather, the past perfect can be used to talk about past events that did not happen.

  • If I had gone to university, I would have studied science.
  • I wish you had told me the truth.

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