Wednesday, May 9, 2012

the past perfect tense

The past perfect can be challenging for some English learners. It can be tough to figure out exactly when or how to use it. But it's really not very difficult. Basically, the past perfect tense occurs before the past tense and is usually used when you tell a story that happened in the past. When you're telling a story, the past tense is usually the base tense or the tense where the story occurs, and everything that happens before that is told using the past perfect.

As always, we should master its structure. The past perfect is formed with had + past participle. For example, the past perfect of fly is had flown; the past perfect of go is had gone. Mastering the structure of the past perfect is the first and important step in learning how to use it.

Once you've mastered the structure of this tense, you can start using it when you're talking about the past. Remember, anything that happened before the past tense should be told in the past perfect.

Here are some examples:
1. I had already eaten when I got to the party. ("Had eaten" happened before "got".)
2. They wanted to watch the new Will Smith comedy, but their friend had just watched it the day before. ("Had watched" happened before "wanted".)
3. He almost had a heart attack when he realized he had forgotten his passport at home.
4. His family traveled a lot. By the time he was 12, he had been to most of Europe and Asia.
5. He had gone to the doctor before he went to the post office.

When we use the past perfect, we make it easy for people to understand our stories because we're making the order of events clear. Our listeners can easily tell what happened first and what happened next. Sometimes, however, you can simply use the past tense instead of the past perfect if it's already clear which event happened first and which event happened next. We can do this when the words "before" or "after" are in the sentence.

Sentence number 5 above is an example. Because it has the word "before", it's already clear that the person went to the doctor first and then he went to the post office. Because of this we can also say, He went to the doctor before he went to the post office.

Similarly, the following two sentences are both correct and mean the same.
1. They went to the museum after they had eaten lunch.
2. They went to the museum after they ate lunch.

Alright, folks. I hope this lesson explained the past perfect well for you. If it had, you should bookmark it for future reference and recommend it to friends who could use the help.

Thanks for practicing your English with us. My name is Joe. Are you following me on Twitter yet? You'll find me there @joeyu2nd. You can also LIKE the small guide site on Facebook for more quick, small lessons. Catch you later.

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