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The pasts : the past perfect
You will need: Irregular verbs.
A serious shock at the beginning of the school year... In sixth and seventh grades, some pupils and even some students seem not to know what the past perfect is... Some - quite a lot - don't know how and when to use it...
Tenses in English are particularly tricky for foreign students... This lesson will be one more attempt to make things clearer in the different pasts. We'll try to distinguish them and really hope it will help!
I) THE DIFFERENT SORTS OF PASTS : clearly, there are several different pasts in English; they have very little in common with the French pasts, for instance. ( Let's refrain from being tempted to translate from a language to another one!):
a) The " simple past " (or completed past) has no link with the present. This tense is used to tell a story; it's "the narrative past", that is also called the preterite.
- Yesterday, she showed him her passport at last.
b) The "recent past" indicates an action which has just taken place. The action almost belongs to the present, but it does belong to the past too. It's not yet «completed» (= totally past) since the subject can still feel its effects). It's formed with the present perfect (HAS/ HAVE+ just+ past participle )
- Bob has just had one of his teeth pulled out. His cheek is swollen.
c) The "past perfect" and the "recent past perfect" are now going to be studied below:
Let's study the timeline going from left to right (from THE PAST towards THE FUTURE...)
The distant The (completed) The recent The present The future
past. simple past past
(anterior) (= narrative past)
- He had opened the door before she arrived home.
- She had lost her keys before she reached her door.
- Tony had just decided to leave when Pamela arrived.
II) HOW TO BUILD THE PAST PERFECT: the auxiliary HAVE is used in the past « HAD », simply adding the past participle of the verb. (Past participle= verb base+ ed or 3rd column of irregular verbs which should be known by heart):
Subject+ HAD+ past participle (verb base+ ed/ 3rd column of IV.)
- I had arrived at the meeting-point much before our appointment time.
a) THE INTERROGATIVE FORM is done with the simple inversion of the auxiliary and the subject:
- Had he already come to your house?
b) THE NEGATIVE FORM is built with the simple addition of NOT between the auxiliary HAD and the past participle:
- He hadn't seen your new car before.
c) THE NEAR PAST PERFECT is formed like the near past but using the auxiliary HAD:
- He had just bought that new car before his old one broke down.
III) WHEN TO USE THE PAST PERFECT: It indicates a distant past action (which means that the action happened before the simple past or narrative past) older than another past action.
a) If the narrator mentions two successive actions, the older one is expressed in the past perfect, whereas the recent one is in the preterite.
- When I arrived home, my father had already put his new car in the garage.
b) The past perfect is used in the construction of the unreal past: (in order to express an action which doesn't correspond to reality.)
- If he had watched the oven, the cake wouldn't have burnt.
c) In order to express a past regret ( it is then followed by "would have + past participle"):
- If he had never lied to me, I would have had confidence in what he said.
d) When using the Indirect Speech, the preterite and the present perfect (in the Direct Speech) both become Past Perfects:
- He says: "I've read this book twice and I saw the film yesterday".=> He said that he had read that book twice and had seen the film the day after.
You're now more than ready to face the test! Thanks for working with me!
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