Which Happened First? Using the Past Perfect

We use the past perfect to show that one past event happened before a second past event.

We make it with the helping verb had + the past participle of the verb (Verb 3).

breakfast food eat meal lunch fruit bread toast English ESL past perfect participial participle

First, I ate breakfast.

people feet train bus public transportation English ESL past perfect participial participle

Second, I took the train to school.

What had you done by the time you took the train?

  • I had already eaten by the time I took the train to school.
  • I had already made my breakfast, by the time I got on the train.
people feet train bus public transportation English ESL past perfect participial participle

First, I took the train.

university people students class classroom study college assembly desks listen learn teach English ESL past perfect participial participle

Second, I went to class.

What had you done by the time you went to class?

  • I had already taken the train before I went to class.
  • I had already finished my commute before class began.
Child boy kid person hand measure measured worried small English ESL past perfect participial participle

First, he grew up.

Frustrated boy, frustrating study person school man male books English ESL past perfect participial participle

Second, he started university.

What had he done by the time he started university?

  • He had already grown up before he started university.
  • He had already turned 18 before he began university.
Frustrated boy, frustrating study person school man male books English ESL past perfect participial participle

First, he finished university.

businessmen men man person adult work newspaper read partner job suit English ESL past perfect participial participle

Second, he found a job.

What had he done by the time he graduated university?

  • He had already graduated by the time he found a job.
  • He had finished school before he began working.

To make this for negative, just follow the helping verb with “not.”

What hadn’t he done by the time he finished university?

  • He had not found a job.  (You can also say: He hadn’t yet found a job.)
  • He hadn’t yet gotten married.  He hadn’t yet had kids.

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