English grammar – Past perfect simple

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Form

Affirmative: had + verb 3 (past participle)
Negative: hadn’t + verb 3 (past participle)

Meaning

Past perfect is used to talk about finished actions that happened before a certain time in the past.

  • I had finished lunch when they arrived.
  • You had left by the time they got here.
  • He didn’t want to come with us because he had already seen the film.

Pronunciation

See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below.

  1. If had is not completely contracted, it is usually reduced to its weak form in affirmative sentences and questions, sometimes with elision and intrusion.

    • We had already arrived:
      /wiː həd/ or /wiːjəd/ (the /h/ sound is elided and the /j/ sound intrudes)
    • You had tried many times:
      /juː həd/ or /uːwəd/ (the /h/ sound is elided and the /w/ sound intrudes)
    • Had they eaten? /həd/

Related grammar points

Past Perfect Continuous
Past Simple
Tense and aspect


2 teaching ideas

  1. Carol says:

    I usually draw a timeline (a long one) on the board or on a big piece of paper. Then I invite students to write about the events that day. For example:

    Student A:
    7am: I had breakfast
    8am: I went to school
    12pm: I went back home
    13pm: I finished my homework
    15pm: I arrived for my English class

    Student B:
    8am: I had breakfast
    9am: I went to work
    15pm: I left work
    15:15pm: I arrived (late) for my class

    Then I model the first sentence:

    When student B had breakfast, student A had already had breakfast (or had already gone to school).

    Then students have to come up with other sentences using the information on the board. They can do it in pairs, comparing their days or even their lives! i.e. When I got married, you had already had 2 children….

  2. Yadegari says:

    I divide the class into two groups and give each group some sentences. The sentences for group 1 are the past simple and for group 2 the past perfect.

    Group 1 have sentences like…

    I was nervous before the flight.
    She was hungry.
    He was tired all day.

    Group 2 have sentences like…

    I hadn’t flown before.
    She hadn’t eaten for hours
    He hadn’t slept well last night.

    I ask one student from group 1 to read their sentence and a student from group 2 to finish it with a “because” sentence.

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