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Past perfect

grammar game

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We use the past perfect when we wish to stress that one action or situation in the past occurred before another action or
situation in the past.

It was obvious that something had happened to them. (It had happened before it became obvious)
I had been waiting for more than an hour when they arrived. (When they arrived I had already been waiting

The past perfect can serve the same purpose as conjunctions of time such as when, after and before:
When she (had) finished her work she left the office.

After Jimmy (had) arrived, the party became really good.

Before he retired my father (had) worked in the post office.

Notice that it is not normally necessary to use the past perfect in these situations, but it is quite common to do so,
especially with the conjunction when, which has several different meanings and may need to be clarified.
By using a combination of these conjunctions and different tenses we can not only explain ourselves more precisely, but
also be less repetitive.
As with most verb tenses, the past perfect has both a simple and a continuous form:
I had talked to all of the candidates by lunchtime.

I had been talking so much that I was starting to go hoarse.

While the simple form is used to stress the fact that the action was finished (i.e. there were no more candidates to talk to),
the continuous form stresses the continuation of the activity (i.e. I would (probably) talk some more).
Another difference is that we tend to use the past perfect simple to speak about situations that lasted a long time, or
were permanent, while the past perfect continuous is for more temporary or short-term situations or actions:
By that time the Moors had lived in southern Spain for over 700 years.

I had only been living in London for a week when I found a job.

There are also some verbs (called stative verbs) that are not usually used in the continuous form, even though that
tense would seem to be more appropriate.
We also use the past perfect tense with verbs like want, plan, intend, hope, etc. to speak about things that we planned
to do but could not for some reason:
We had wanted to see Susie run, but got caught up in the traffic.

I had planned to read the report but just didn't have time.

Finally, the past perfect tense is also used in third conditional sentences.
For more information on the past perfect tense, see the following web sites:


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