Past Perfect 

Contrast earlier from later events

lunch with friends
 

 

Past Tense vs. Past Perfect

PAST TENSE

Past tense focuses on an event or a series of events. No particular importance is placed on timing. The events are reported in the sequence (order) that they happened.

FIRST EVENT SECOND EVENT

First, I stopped at an ATM.

Then I took my friends out to lunch.

First, I took my friends to lunch.

Then I stopped at an ATM.

First, we sat down.

Then the waiter tripped and dropped his tray on our table.

First, we stood up to leave.

Then the waiter tripped and dropped his tray on our table.

PAST PERFECT TENSE

Past perfect contrasts the timing of two events and places emphasis on the timing of the first event which has an effect on the second event. "good or bad timing"

EARLIER EVENT LATER EVENT

I had stopped at an ATM

before I took my friends out to lunch. (good timing) 

I had taken my friends to lunch

before I stopped at an ATM. (bad timing) 

We had just sat down

when the waiter tripped and dropped his tray on our table. (bad timing) 

We had just stood up to leave

when the waiter tripped and dropped his tray on our table. (good timing.) 

 

The difference in time often indicates "good timing"  a fortunate sequence or "bad timing" an unfortunate sequence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Perfect

With "before" or "after"

 

 

 

Placement of "before" or "after"

LATER EVENT EARLIER EVENT

Before is optionally used with a past perfect sentence to emphasize which action happened first. 

After is optionally used with a past perfect sentence to emphasize which action happened second. After introduces the earlier event.

 

I took my friends out to lunch    (independent clause)

after

I had stopped at an ATM     (dependent clause)

Before

I took my friends out to lunch,    (dependent clause)

 

I had stopped at an ATM     (independent clause)

 

 

EARLIER EVENT LATER EVENT

After introduces the earlier event   After joins a dependent clause to an independent clause.

Before, when or by the time introduces the later event.  Each conjunction joins a dependent clause to an independent  clause.

After

I had stopped at an ATM,     

 

I took my friends out to lunch.   

 

I had stopped at an ATM        

before 

I took my friends out to lunch.     

 

I had just stopped at an ATM    

when

my friends walked up to me.  

 

I had already stopped at an ATM    
 

by the time

my friends walked up to me.  

Related pages  Independent vs. dependent clause  |    After/ Before/ When  |  By the time  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Perfect Progressive

Background Events

 

 

 

SETTING THE SCENE IN THE BACKGROUND

Past progressive relates two past activities with the focus on the activities rather than their timing.  Timing can be expressed by adding connectors indicating sequence: and then, next, etc.

PAST ACTIVITY 1 PAST ACTIVITY 2

We were sitting there having lunch,

and suddenly the waiter dropped his tray on the table.

He was talking on his phone.

Then, he crashed into the back of a bus.

She was drinking an icy fruit drink,

and then her head started to ache.

We were stting there an hour

Then he arrived.

SETTING THE SCENE EARLIER

Past perfect progressive relates the timing of two past activities: one that is ongoing and the other that follows or interrupts. Backgrounding sets the scene for the "main activity".

PAST PERFECT PAST ACTIVITY 2

We had been sitting there having lunch

when the waiter dropped his tray on the table.

He had been talking on his phone

before he crashed into the back of a bus.

She had been drinking an icy fruit drink

when her head started to ache.

We had been sitting there an hour
 

by the time he arrived.

 

Also see By the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

ERROR SOLUTION

*My grandfather had lived in a small village in Italy when he was a child.

Conflict: the adverb when indicates same time; however, the verb indicates an earlier time

My grandfather lived in a small village in Italy when he was a child.   
(Use past tense because no time contrast is intended; when= same time)

My grandfather had been living in a small village in Italy when the war started.
(Use past perfect to contrast earlier and later past;
when= interruption of new activity)

The bank robber  had took the gun, threw it in the bushes and drove away.

The bank robber took the gun, threw it in the bushes and drove away.
(Use simple past tense for a series of past actions, and when there is no need to emphasize one action happening earlier than the other.)
 

When has two meanings:  1) same time, 2) immediately after (interruption of one activity by a second activity)

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

Error and Solution

ESL DESCRIPTION

In traditional grammar, while, when, before, after, and since may be used to introduce a "time-related" clause. These words belong to the conjunction category. The "time-related clause" is called an adverbial clause: it tells When?

Azar & Hagen call these adverbial clauses or "time clauses" with no mention of a term for the connector.  (Azar 4-3, Adverb clauses 17-2; Reduction  18-1)
 

Swan (2009) refers to while, when, before, after, and since as conjunctions. (Swan 30.1)

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In current linguistic analysis – while, when, before, after, and since — belong to the category preposition, which can take a clause as a complement.  (In traditional grammar, a preposition is followed by an object.)

Huddleston & Pullum (2009) have re-assigned a large number of items previously analyzed as adverbs after, as, as soon as, before, once, since while, and when to the class of prepositions.  The preposition is the head of the prepositional phrase (PP) which can be complemented by a noun phrase or a clause. (Huddleston 612-7)

Quirk & Greenbaum (1989) place while, when, before, after, and since in the class of conjunction.  They function as subordinators of adjunct clauses that express time-relationship.  Also see Biber (8.53)

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice

A Late Night Fever

baby

 

 

 

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check all" button at the bottom or the "check" button to the left of each item.

1.

(when - at the time that)


2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.
Last night, I was thankful that the baby fell asleep early. 

(when = interruption)


8.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Contrasting earlier from later past

Cordova
 

 

Read "The Family Picture"

One summer when I was eleven, my family had the money and the time to take our first vacation. My father, my mother, my younger sister and I got into my father's '54 Ford to go to Cordoba where my parents rented a house up in the hills. Cordoba is a city that is famous for its mountains and rivers and is located 900 miles away from Buenos Aires where we lived. After we drove a long time, we had arrived there.

My father wanted to capture everything in pictures, the scenery, the family and the car. The problem was that he wanted everything together in each picture. One morning, after breakfast it was a the perfect time for a picture with the car, the family, the house and also the scenery, all in one shot. In spite of the fact that it was almost impossible he decided to try his best. First, he made us get closer to the car, it didn't work because the scenery was gone. Second, it was time for him to go down the hill, it didn't work either because he couldn't see the car. Finally, he had the great idea of moving the car to the front.

Since he didn't have the keys with him, he decided to push the car down. He gave my mother a rock to put under the car wheel to stop it when it was in right position for the picture. Despite my mother's effort to put the rock in the right place, my sister's open eyes and my open mouth, the car went over the rock and rolled down the hill.

My mother ran into the house crying. The three of us started walking down the hill looking at the car which stopped on the bottom of hill with the front up. I remember thinking "how we are going back home?". When we got to the bottom of the hill, to our surprise, the car was intact. The two front wheels were up on two big rocks as if somebody place them there on purpose. We were so happy! My sister and I ran up the hill to gave my mother the news. My father staring at the car was saying "One more thing to tell our grandchildren."

capture – keep, save, take

intact – together, not broken

scenery – the land and trees, the view

 

 

 

 

Contrast the earlier from the later activity or event.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

9.
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10.

11.
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12.
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13.
To our surprise,

14.