Simple Past – Past Perfect Simple

Form

Simple PastPast Perfect Simple
2nd column of irregular verbs
Example:
I spoke
had + 3rd column of irregular verbs
Example:
I had spoken
regular verbs: infinitive + ed
Example:
I worked
regular verbs: form of have + infinitive + ed
Example:
I had worked
Exceptions
Exceptions when adding ed:
  • when the final letter is e, only add d
    Example:
    love - loved
  • after a short, stressed vowel, the final consonant is doubled
    Example:
    admit - admitted
  • final l is always doubled in British English (not in American English)
    Example:
    travel - travelled
  • after a consonant, final y becomes i (but: not after a vowel)
    Example:
    worry - worried
    but: play - played
See also explanations on Simple Past and Past Perfect Simple

Use

We use Simple Past if we give past events in the order in which they occured. However, when we look back from a certain time in the past to tell what had happened before, we use Past Perfect.

Normal order in the past or looking back to an event before a certain time in the past?

Do you just want to tell what happened some time in the past or do you want to tell what had happened before/up to a certain time in the past?
Simple PastPast Perfect Simple
some time in the past
Example:
Jane got up at seven. She opened her birthday presents and then the whole family went to the zoo.
before/up to a certain time in the past
Example:
Before her sixth birthday, Jane had never been to the zoo.

Signal Words

Simple PastPast Perfect Simple
  • first
  • then
  • already
  • up to then
  • before that day
  • after*
*Note: "After" is only used as a signal word for Past Perfect if it is followed by a subject + verb, meaning that one action had been completed before another action began (the new action is inSimple Past).
Example:
After the family had had breakfast, they went to the zoo.
However, if "after" is followed by object + subject + verb, the verb belongs to the new action and is therefore in Simple Past.
Example:
After her visit to the zoo, Jane was exhausted.

More exceptions with signal words

When

Depending on the situation, "when" can be used with Simple Past or Past Perfect. Compare the following examples:
Example:
When Jane saw the elephants, she was amazed. (at the same time)
When Jane had seen the elephants, she wanted to see the giraffes. (second action happened after the first action had been completed)
When Jane went to see the elephants, she had already seen the lions. (second action had been completed when the first action took place)

Before

"Before" as well can either be used with Simple Past or Past Perfect. If the action after "before" is a new action, use Simple Past. If the action after "before" started (and was not completed) before a certain time in the past, use Past Perfect. Compare the following examples:
Example:
Jane had read a lot about elephants before she went to the zoo.
Jane went to the zoo before she had finished reading her new book about elephants.

Exercises on Present Perfect






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