Past Perfect

Past perfect tense is used to indicate that one action occurred before another action in the past. In other words, past perfect tense indicates the first of the two actions.*

For example,

When I woke up this morning, my roommate had left already.

After I had eaten my dinner, I went to see a movie.

Before I arrived at the theater, the movie had already begun.

Sometimes, when the meaning is clear from context, the simple past tense can be used.

After I had gone shopping, I stopped at the health spa.

After I went shopping, I stopped at the health spa.

The most common error with the past perfect is using it where it does not belong.

When I was young, I had been a cowboy.

When I was young, I was a cowboy.

(Incorrect—no reference to other events)


Yesterday the Johnsons had opened their new business.

Yesterday the Johnsons opened their new business.



*In some very unusual cases, the past perfect tense can refer to the second past action.

Before I had finished my homework, the telephone rang.

(The telephone interrupted me before I finished my homework.)