How do we use the past perfect tense

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  1. 1. How do we use the Past Perfect Tense? The past perfect tense expresses action in the past before another action in the past. This is the past in the past. For example: The train left at 9am. We arrived at 9.15am. When we arrived, the train had left. The train had left when we arrived. pastpresentfutureTrain leaves in past at 9am. 9 9.15We arrive in past at 9.15am. Look at some more examples: I wasn't hungry. I had just eaten. They were hungry. They had not eaten for five hours. I didn't know who he was. I had never seen him before. "Mary wasn't at home when I arrived." "Really? Where had she gone?" You can sometimes think of the past perfect tense like the present perfect tense, but instead of the time being now the time is past. past perfect tense had | done | >| pastpresent perfect tense have | done | >| nowfuturepastnowFor example, imagine that you arrive at the station at 9.15am. The stationmaster says to you: "You are too late. The train has left." Later, you tell your friends: "We were too late. The train had left." We often use the past perfect tense in reported speech after verbs like said, told, asked, thought, wondered. Look at these examples: He told us that the train had left. I thought I had met her before, but I was wrong. He explained that he had closed the window because of the rain. I wondered if I had been there before. I asked them why they had not finished.future
  2. 2. PAST PERFECT When we talk about something that happened in the past we sometimes want to refer back to something that happened before that time. We can use the past perfect tense (had + past participle) to do this. Look at these two sentences. John left the house at 7:30 yesterday morning. Mary rang Johns doorbell at 8:15 yesterday. Both actions happened in the past so we use the past simple tense. But look at how we can combine the sentences. Mary rang Johns doorbell at 8:15 yesterday but John had already left the house. We use the past perfect (had left) because the action happened before another action in the past (Mary rang the doorbell.) Look at some more examples of the past perfect. When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she had washed the cat. I got a letter from Jim last week. Wed been at school together but wed lost touch with each other. The past perfect is used because they were at school before he received the letter. It refers to an earlier past. Look at these 2 sentences. James had cooked breakfast when we got up. James cooked breakfast when we got up. In the first sentence, the past perfect tells us that James cooked breakfast before we got up. In the second sentence, first we got up and then James cooked breakfast. Past perfect continuous The past perfect can also be used in the continuous. I realised I had been working too hard so I decided to have a holiday. By the time Jane arrived we had been waiting for 3 hours. NOTE The most common mistake with the past perfect is to overuse it or to use it simply because we are talking about a time in the distant past. The Romans had spoken Latin Remember that we only use the past perfect when we want to refer to a past that is earlier than another time in the narrative
  3. 3. From website English language and usage a Q&A site for linguists, etymologists and english language enthusiastic Present Perfect versus Past perfect Question: I have marked those books yesterday. I had marked those books yesterday. Which sentence is correct? I know that: The present perfect is used when an action begins in the past and continues into the present, or holds relevance in the present. The past perfect is used when an action begins in the past and finishes in the past, to holds relevance only in the past. Answers: 1) Your first sentence sounds wrong to me because of the 'yesterday' at the end. If you want to use yesterday it just becomes I marked those books yesterday. If you want to use 'have marked' then it is simply, I have marked those books [already]. The second sentence is grammatically correct. What happened to that stack of books? They got thrown away this morning. But I had marked those books [for retention] yesterday.2) You're right about the application of the present perfect, but you've not noticed that because of the "present relevance", it is incompatible with an expression of time that doesn't include the present. So "I have marked those books today" - It is fine, and so is: "I have marked those books this morning" - if it is still morning. But if it is now afternoon, then the latter will not work, and "*I have marked those books yesterday" - is never acceptable. Your characterization of the past perfect is incomplete: it is not enough that it have relevance in the past, but requires that there be a particular point in the past, which has already been established or is otherwise obvious to the participants in the conversation, at which the action had relevance. So "I had marked those books" - is acceptable provided the previous conversation or something about the context has established the point in the past about which you are talking (not the time when you marked the books, but the time at which you could have said "I have marked those books"). Using the past perfect when there is no such point of time in view is strange. Generally, expressions of time which do not include the reference point are similarly not acceptable; but there can be exceptions. If you and I talked yesterday about some books, and I had been unable to remember when we talked whether or not I had marked them, then I might say "I had marked those books yesterday" - where "yesterday" serves to identify the reference point, and means "when we talked about them yesterday". It would not necessarily mean that I marked them yesterday, as opposed to on a previous day.


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