The Past Perfect Tense

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Dec 24, 2010 09:21
If you want to, please add a Japanese translation in the corrections field of each sentence.

この日記は と の続きです。
This entry is the continuation of and .

The past perfect tense consists of "had" followed by the past participle of the verb you are using.

go/goes: had gone
sing/sings: had sung
am/are/is: had been
do/does: had done

The past perfect tense describes an action or actions or state or states that occurred before a specific time in the past. I will call this specific time in the past the "past reference time."

This is the English verb tense which I see misused by Japanese speakers the most often, although it is actually more straightforward than the present perfect tense. The past perfect tense is ONLY used when there is a reference time in the past before which the actions or states described by the verb occurred.

This past reference time is sometimes mentioned directly in the sentence itself, but it may also be a time which was mentioned in a previous sentence.


By the time she was 18 years old, she had already won three prizes for excellent writing. [The past reference time is when "she was 18 years old." She won three prizes before that reference time. There is a suggestion that she won more prizes later on, or at least that she went on to other noteworthy accomplishments having to do with writing.]

I had driven almost a mile when I realized I was going in the wrong direction. [The reference time is when I realized I was going in the wrong direction. The past tense "realized" signals that this is a time in the past.]

Last Christmas, he drove to his parents' house to visit them. He had only learned to drive the summer before, so he drove very cautiously. [Last Christmas is the past reference time. Notice that learning to drive occurred before that time, so it is in past perfect tense, but "he drove very cautiously" is simple past tense, since it occurred at that time.]

The student handed her paper to the teacher and left the room, although there was still half an hour before the test would be over. The teacher started grading the test, expecting the worst. To his astonishment, the student had answered every question perfectly. [The student answered the questions before handing in the test, and before the teacher graded it. Either of these can be taken to be the reference time.]

The police detective cautiously opened the door. There was no one in the room, but someone clearly had been there. The contents of a drawer had been emptied onto the bed, and there was a puddle of water on the floor where the intruder had overturned a bowl for a pet cat. The intruder had presumably escaped through the open window. [The reference time in this paragraph is the time when the police detective entered the room. This is a time in the past, as signaled by the past tense verb "opened." Notice that "there was a puddle" is simple past, because this describes a state of affairs at the reference time. All of the other actions occurred before that reference time, so the past perfect tense is used for them. "Had been emptied" is in passive voice, so the past perfect tense "had been" of the auxiliary verb "to be" is used.]