ESL English class

Beginner ESL class

Intermediate ESL

Advanced ESL class

ESL writing class

ESL quiz center

English practice


ESL "Arlo's story" free online past perfect grammar class

A picture of Arlo Guthrie

Hi, this is a picture I took of Arlo Guthrie, a famous American folk singer, during the 2003 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in New York. I had seen him twice before.

The first sentence above uses the past simple verb "took". The second uses the past perfect verb "had seen".

In this class I'm going to show you when and how to use the past perfect.

The past perfect is used for actions before a specific time in the past. In the example above, the 2003 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival happened at a specific time in the past. I use the past perfect to describe actions before that time in the past. I had seen Arlo Guthrie twice before the 2003 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.

The past perfect can almost always be replaced with the past simple in casual speech. In very formal speech and in some writing (and on some graamar tests) it is better to use past perfect for actions before a past event.

past perfect timeline

Here's a story that Arlo Guthrie told the audience during his show. I've removed some past simple verbs and some past perfect verbs. Remember to use past simple for specific times in the past and the past perfect for actions before a specific time in the past. Form the past perfect with had + past participle.

Arlo Guthrie and a friend of his (go) to a hospital to visit the patients and try to cheer them up. Arlo was talking to one patient when his friend (come) over and told him there was someone he should meet. Arlo (follow) his friend and (see) a patient in bed with his eyes closed. The patient (open) his eyes and (say) "Lady, you're good!" to Arlo's friend. Arlo Guthrie (do) not know why the patient (be) so shocked. Later, he (learn) that the patient (tell) Arlo's friend that the one thing that could make him really happy would be to meet Arlo Guthrie.

I hope you are now ready to experiment with the past perfect. I know that you still have doubts about when to use past perfect instead of past simple, but you can ask questions on this thread because to learn this stuff perfectly you need to try it. Or, you can just not worry about it - on this forum thread a few of us talk about how the past perfect isn't really that important for many people to elarn how to use. You do need to understand what it means, however.

The more you use English to communicate, the easier it will be to remember grammar and vocabulary! If you need to brush up on irregular past simple verbs, there are two irregular past tense quizzes for you to try.

Advertise here.