This website uses cookies. A cookie is a small piece of code that gives your computer a unique identity, but it does not contain any information that allows us to identify you personally. For more information on how TESOL International Association uses cookies, please read our privacy policy. Most browsers automatically accept cookies, but if you prefer, you can opt out by changing your browser settings.


Knowing When To Use PAST PERFECT

by Insights to English | 10 Apr 2018
Resource Description: Knowing when to use the Past Perfect tense instead of Past Simple in a narrative can be confusing for students. This video shows a nice trick to ​getting it right.
Audience: Secondary, Adult, University, Teacher Training
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced
Teaching Tip:

In a narrative ​context, the past perfect form is used when a verb phrase comes out of order, i.e. it occurs earlier than the verb phrase(s) before it.

One way to get this point across is by drawing a timeline. As you move through the sentence, write each verb you come across on the timeline. To maintain the past simple tense (or the past continuous tense), each verb should be at the same point or to the right of the verb that came before. If you add a verb to the left instead, that's when you need to use past perfect.

But not everyone's a visual learner.  Another way to do this is by numbering the verbs in the order they occur. If the order they happened is the same as the order we find them in the sentence, then we can just use past simple (or continuous). But a verb that's out of order (has a number less than the verb before it) should be expressed as past perfect.

Watch the video for the full explanation, and visit for more.