Past Perfect

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Past perfect
The structure of the past perfect in English.

In grammar, the past perfect is an aspect of the verb that designates an action that has been completed before another past action. Formed with the auxiliary had and the past participle of a verb, it's used to indicate a time further back in the past than the present perfect or the simple past tense. The tense is also known as the past perfective, the pluperfect, and the past-in-the-past. The Latin  plus quam per fectum means "more than perfect," and the French pronunciation of plus is close to "ploo"; that is where the term pluperfect came from.


Past Perfect Examples From Literature

  • "Far worst of all, the fever had settled in Mary's eyes, and Mary was blind."
    (Laura Ingalls Wilder, On the Banks of Plum Creek, 1937)
  • "He camped that night on the broad Animas Plain and the wind blew in the grass and he slept on the ground wrapped in the serape and in the wool blanket the old man had given him."
    (Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, 1994)
  • "With his new, heightened feelings, he was overwhelmed by sadness at the way the others had laughed and shouted, playing at war."
    (Lois Lowry, The Giver, 1993)
  • "One great source of pleasure to me was that my wife was delighted with the home I had given her amid the prairies of the far west."
    (William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, 1889)
  • "At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969)
  • "The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor."
    (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942)

Functions of the Past Perfect With If Clauses

As in other past tenses, the past perfect in a subordinate clause, called a conditional clause, may signify hypothesis, or something contrary to fact.

A past perfect modal, usually would or could have, appears in the main clause:

  • "If you had told me before now, I could have helped." (But I didn't help.)
  • "If you had been coming tomorrow, you would have met my mother." (But you didn't meet my mother.)

(Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1994)

  • "If we had been there yesterday, we would have seen them. (But we were not there yesterday.)
  • "If he had been given a good mark, he would have told me. (But it seems that he was not given a good mark.)"

(Sidney Greenbaum and Gerald Nelson, An Introduction to English Grammar, 2nd ed. Pearson, 2002)

You may also use the past perfect to show completion. For example, "She stood outside until he had gone."

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Past Perfect." ThoughtCo, Feb. 20, 2018, Nordquist, Richard. (2018, February 20). Past Perfect. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Past Perfect." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 22, 2018).