In this episode: The past perfect
simple and continuous with special guest Mike Hardinge
What is the Past Perfect?
Use: The Past Perfect is the past before the past. When we are already
talking about the past and we want to talk about an earlier past time.
It can be in a Simple or Continuous/Progressive form.
PAST PERFECT SIMPLE
Something that happened before another action in the past. It can also
show that something happened before a specific time in the past.
Focus tends to be on the completion of the action/state, not the
continuity of it.
Form: had/ ’d + past participle (had eaten, had been, had forgotten, had
Let’s see where the past perfect simple fits in. To do this we have to
look at a much more ‘important’ tense ‘the past simple’.
The past simple forms the basis of a narrative; it gives us a sequence
Maybe last night…
(1) you stayed up (didn’t go to bed) to watch a film and (2) went to bed
too late. In the morning, (3) you didn’t hear your alarm.
(4) You woke up late. (5) You got dressed in an awful hurry, (6) didn’t
have breakfast and (7) rushed out of the house.
Then (8) you realised you HAD FORGOTTEN your keys.
The verbs in the story have a ‘fixed’ order, except for ‘had forgotten’,
which takes us back to before or during when (5) you got dressed – maybe
you put on another jacket or before (7) you rushed out of the house –
you didn’t check to see if you had your keys.
Past perfect simple usually takes us back to a previous stage of a
It is very useful for giving reasons:
You couldn’t get back into your house (why?) because you HAD FORGOTTEN
or obviously it could be a negative action, an action not taken, which
is the case here:
you couldn’t get back into your house because you HADN’T TAKEN your keys.
If you had gone to bed at the right time, none of this would have
Examples: When Mike arrived, we had already recorded a podcast
I’d never seen such an excellent system for learning phrasal verbs
before I saw Mike’s CD.
After she’d studied Mike’s phrasal verb CD, she understood the subject
We’d had our old printer for 8 years before we bought that new one. (two
‘hads’. “ ’d” = “had”)
Question: (different word order) Had you ever won an award before you
won in Manchester last year?
Negative: (with NOT) I hadn’t/had not studied Spanish, before I came to
Reza arrived late. By the time he arrived, we had already ordered our
food from the waiter.
As soon as he’d lit/he had lit his cigarette, the bus arrived at the
No sooner had he lit (OBLIGATORY INVERSION) his cigarette than the bus
arrived at the stop.
Reza and Craig spoke about INVERSION in episode 78
PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS
Use: Focus tends to be on the continuity of the activity/process.
Something that started in the past and continued up to a particular time
in the past.
Can be used for more temporary actions/situations or a repeated action
or a longer action interrupted by another action. Often there’s evidence
that the action had been continuing more or less up to point.
I HAD LIVED in Salamanca for two years before I came to Valencia. (use
simple to stress the completed action)
I HAD BEEN LIVING in Salamanca for two years before I came to Valencia.
(use continuous to stress the continuity of an action that may, or may
not, be unfinished)
Present perfect simple: I HAVE READ fifteen books this year. (focus on
the number of books completed)
Present perfect continuous: I’VE BEEN READING the last Harry Potter book
and I can’t understand a word. (focus on the continuous action)
Past perfect simple: Valencia HAD BEEN PLAYING very well before the new
Past perfect continuous: Valencia HAD WON 15 games before the new
Form: had/ ’d been + -ing form of the verb
Back to Mike’s forgotten keys story. You can’t have a bare narrative
with no description and maintain interest, so:
(1) you stayed up (didn’t go to bed) to watch a film. IT WAS A REALLY
GREAT FILM ABOUT DRAGONS AND MONSTERS AND HEROES WERE FLYING ABOUT ALL
OVER THE PLACE. As a result,
(2) you went to bed too late. THE BED WASN’T MADE BUT YOU WERE TOO TIRED
TO WORRY. In the morning,
(3) you didn’t hear your alarm. THIS WAS HARDLY SURPRISING.
(4) You woke up late.
(5) You got dressed in an awful hurry, THE ROOM WAS IN A TERRIBLE MESS,
THINGS WERE LYING EVERYWHERE.
(6) You didn’t have time for any breakfast and you
(7) rushed out of the house, like a bat out of hell. It was only after
you HAD CLOSED the door that
(8) you realised you HAD FORGOTTEN your keys.
Description with WAS, WERE, HAD or PAST CONTINUOUS makes the narrative
more palatable (rico/a, apetitoso/a).
The past perfect continuous can add to this description.
YOU HAD BEEN WORKING REALLY HARD AND WANTED TO GIVE YOURSELF A TREAT, so
you stayed up to watch a film….you didn’t hear your alarm.
You woke up late. ACTUALLY YOU HADN’T BEEN SLEEPING VERY WELL RECENTLY…YOU
HADN’T BEEN LIVING IN THE FLAT FOR VERY LONG.
The past perfect continuous is very useful for giving background
description to a story, in a similar way as the past continuous tense.
Compare: When I woke up yesterday it was raining. – The rain was falling
when I woke up
When I woke up yesterday it had been raining. – The rain wasn’t falling
when I woke up. It had (recently) stopped. The ground was still wet.
Use the past perfect in 3rd conditional ‘if’ sentences:
If I hadn’t drunk so much whisky on Saturday night, I wouldn’t have felt
so bad on Sunday morning.
If Craig HAD GOT MARRIED when he was 22, he’d have had a family at a
very young age.
If Reza HADN’T STAYED in Valencia, he might have gone to Sardinia.
If Mike’s parents HAD TAKEN him abroad when he was really young, he
would have learnt another language.
If Mike HADN’T BROUGHT his daughter to Spain, she wouldn’t have learnt
The past perfect is also used in reported speech:
“I HAD never MET Mike before I started working at the school.” – Craig
said that he HAD never MET Mike before he started working at the school.
It’s often ok to use the past simple instead of the past perfect,
especially when there is a time expression:
Bill had been married twice before he met Susan. (past perfect) – Bill
was married twice before he met Susan. (past simple)
Mike’s Basque Beret (boina)
“I haven’t seen Mike’s beret before.” / “I haven’t seen Mike in a beret
“It’s the first time I have seen Mike’s beret.” / “It’s the first time I
have seen Mike in a beret.”
Looking back, and talking about the past, you could say, “It was the
first time I had seen Mike’s beret.” / “It was the first time I had seen
Mike in (or wearing) a beret.”
It’s three months since I spoke English / It’s three months since I’ve
It was three months since he had spoken English.
More time expressions often used with the past perfect: by the time,
before, after, as soon as, no sooner…..than….., up to then/that moment
and ‘because’ for giving reasons: “He was very dirty BECAUSE he had just
been walking in the rain.”
Craig went to bed early last night because he’d been exercising and he
was very tired.
Tell a story and use the past perfect.
Craig: You are a Zombie.
Reza: You woke up naked on a park bench this morning. (to cut a long
story short – “en resumen”, “resumiendo”, “y te la hago corta”…..)
Mike: You started speaking fluent Chinese for no apparent reason. (the
long and the short of it is…..“en resumen”, “resumiendo”, “y te la hago
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