Forming the Past Perfect Tense

Blackboard with Logo image: How to form the past perfect with many examples


Let's learn how to form  the past perfect tense.

This tense is formed using the auxiliary verb "had" plus the past participle of the main verb. We'll learn how to make positive and negative forms, short forms (contractions) and questions.  

[Note: Click here to learn how to use  the past perfect.]

Past Perfect Affirmative Statements

Chart showing how to form the past perfect in affirmative (positive) statements: Subject + had + past participle

To form the past perfect:  we use subject"had"  + the past participle.

Note: You can also use contractions:  I had = I'd;  you had = you'd;  he had = he'd; she had = she'd;   we had = we'd;  they had = they'd

To form the past participle:  add "ed" to the infinitive form of regular  verbs. We use the same form for each subject (e.g., I, you, he).

  • had started the computer but it took so long to boot up I used my iPad. (start — started)
  • I'd started the computer.
  • She had lived here many years before moving here again. (live — lived)
  • She'd lived here for 20 years.
  • They hadn't complained about this before. (complain — complained)
  • They had complained about this two times before.


Spelling Changes with Past Participles

Sometimes there are spelling changes when forming the past participle:

1.  If the verb ends with "y", we change it to -i and add -ed (but only if there's a consonant before the -y):

  • Had you tried sushi before today? It's great, isn't it? (try — tried)
  • We hadn't studied the vocabulary before we took the exam. (study — studied)
  • I'd cried on Valentine's Day five years in a row but not this year.   (cry — cried)
  • My assistant hadn't copied the report before the meeting.  (copy — copied)

2.  If the verb ends with "e" , we add just a "d" (not "ed"): 

  • Hadn't the store already closed by the time you arrived? (close — closed, NOT:  closeed)
  • She had figured there would be six people for dinner but seven arrived. (figure — figured)

3. Double the final consonant after a short stressed vowel if the verb ends in a CVC (consonant vowel consonant)*:

  • I had stopped eating meat but started again  (stop — stopped:  double the "p" then add "ed")
  • She had planned to surprise her daughter for her birthday but she didn't want a birthday party after all.  (plan — planned)

(*except CVC endings with w, x, or y)


Irregular Past Participle Forms

Many verbs have irregular past participles.

Examples:

  • We had eaten spaghetti three days in a row. (NOT: we have "eated")
  • I had done the wash before my wife came home. (NOT: "doded")
  • I thought my dog had run away but he was sleeping in my bed. (NOT:  "runned")

Unfortunately, you have to memorize them. Here are many of the irregular forms:

  be  —  been

  become  — become

  begin — begun

  break — broken

  bring  — brought

  buy  — bought

  catch  — caught

  choose  — chosen

  come  — come

  cost  — cost

  cut  — cut

  do  — done

  draw  — drawn

  drink  — drunk

  drive  — driven

  eat  — eaten

  fall  — fallen

  feel  — felt

  fight  — fought

  find  — found

  fly  — flown

  forget  — forgotten

  get  — gotten

  give  — given

  go  — gone

  grow  — grown

  hang  — hung

  have  — had

  hear  — heard

  hide  — hidden

  hit  — hit

  hold  — held

  hurt  — hurt

  keep  — kept

  know  — known

  leave  — left

  lend  — lent

  let  — let

  light  — lit

  lose  — lost

  make  — made

  mean  — meant

  meet  — met

  pay  — paid

  put  — put

  read  — read

  ride  — ridden

  ring  — rung

  rise  — risen

  run  — run

  say  — said

  see  — seen

  sell  — sold

  send  — sent

  shine  — shone

  shoot  — shot

  shut  — shut

  sing  — sung

  sit  — sat

  sleep  — slept

  speak  — spoken

  spend  — spent

  stand  — stood

  steal  — stolen

  swim  — swum

  take  — taken

  teach — taught

  tear  — torn

  tell  — told

  think  — thought

  throw  — thrown

  wake  — woken

  wear  — worn

  win  — won

  write  — written

Past Perfect Negative Statements

Chart showing how to form the past perfect negative: Subject + had + not + past participle.

To form the negative, simply add "not" after "had":

  • subject + had + not + past participle

We can also use the contractions hadn't  (had not =  hadn't)

Examples:

  • I had not written to my mother in years.
  • The housekeeping staff hadn't cleaned the room in two days.
  • We hadn't washed the car because we thought it would rain.
  • Before last night I hadn't spoken to my ex-girlfriend in three months.
  • My parents had not come to one of my games before today.


Yes / No Questions

Chart showing to form questions with the past perfect: Had + subject + past participle

To form questions use:

  • had + subject + past participle

Examples:

  • Had you spoken to him before you met each other?
  • Had she seen a psychiatrist before?
  • Had they bought anything from that store before today?
  • Had the weather been nice in previous years?
  • Had it taken so long to get a reservation in the past?
  • Had they given you the same excuse the last time?


We can answer no questions with a full or a shorter answer by using contractions (hadn't) with negative answers.

Examples:

Had you visited Sri Lanka before this trip?

  • Yes, I had visited the country twice before this trip.
  • Yes, I had. (short answer)
  • No, I had not visited the country twice before this trip.
  • No, I hadn't. (short answer)

Had the snowstorm started before you left?

  • Yes, it had started before we left.
  • Yes, it had. (short answer)
  • No, it had not started.
  • No, it hadn't. (short answer)


Wh- Questions Past Perfect

Notice the word order. The wh- question word comes before "had" and then the past participle.

Examples:

  • How long had you studied French before you moved here?
  • Where had the dog gone?
  • Why had the bus stopped in the previous city?
  • Who had they originally found to cater the event?
  • What had your sister thought about the first interview?
  • How much of the cake had your dog eaten before you caught him?

Whew!  We covered a lot of information on this page. Check back for exercises that will help you practice the past perfect in its different forms.

Click here to learn when to USE the past perfect.


› Past Perfect Form