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Welcome to this week's writing lesson from

 MyEnglishTeacher.net

That was BEFORE!! 

Lesson Topic: Using The Past Perfect


Look at the following sentences.  Which happened first?
We all felt so sick.  We took strange medicine.  

We can only assume that the people in the above situation, first, felt sick and then took strange medicine.  However, in English, there is grammar that can make the above situation very clear.  It is called the past perfect.   

You probably know what perfect means (100% pure, no problems).  However, in English grammar, the word perfect means past.  Whenever you see the word perfect referring to English grammar, just say past.  Therefore, the past perfect means past past.  This is exactly what the past perfect means: the past past.  In other words, it is an action that happened (and finished) before another action in the past.

Look at the time line below.

I ate a big breakfast. I went to school. Now

7:30am 8:00am

What happened first?  What happened second?

First:  I ate breakfast.

Second:  I went to school.

REMEMBER: Both of these activities happened in the past!  However, one happened before the other.

Here is a common way to write (or say) these two actions using the past perfect.  The past perfect is written in red.

Before I went to school, I had eaten a big breakfast.

-OR-

After I had eaten breakfast, I went to school.

What do you notice about the past perfect?  First, you should have noticed that the past perfect is the action (had eaten a big breakfast) that happened BEFORE the other action in the past (went to school).

The second thing you probably noticed is that the past perfect is written with had and a past participle.  The past participle and the simple past are usually the same if the simple past ends in -ed.  If the simple past does NOT end in -ed, the past participle is probably different from the simple past.   To see a list of these irregular simple past verbs and past participle verbs, click here (the past participles are in orange).

Here is how the past perfect is formed:

I had eaten
subject + had + past participle

Here's another timeline.  Look at the timeline and make a sentence with the past perfect and the word before.

Sam cooked dinner Carol got home Now

1:30pm 3:00pm

 

book recommendation

cover Action Grammar: Fast, Easy Answers on Everyday Usage and Punctuation

The author, Joanne Feierman, focuses on the grammar most of us need in everyday life, from "Five Lies Your English Teacher Told You" to "Simple Business Verbs You Should Know." She also includes helpful sections on memos, letter writing, and e-mail etiquette, as well as an appendix of troublesome words and phrases, and words that are easy to misspell.  Click here for more information.

What happened first?  What happened second?

First:  Sam cooked dinner.

Second:  Carol got home.

Therefore, the answer is

Before Carol got home, Sam had already cooked dinner.

NOTE: The past participle of cook is cooked, which is the same as the simple past (cooked).  

Using the word after, you can write the following:

After Sam had cooked dinner, Carol got home.

If you use the words after or before in this type of situation, the simple past is sometimes used with BOTH actions because the words after and before already make the time relationship clear.  In other words, when the words after and before are used, the past perfect is sometimes NOT used.  The following example shows this:

Before Carol got home, Sam cooked dinner.
After Sam cooked dinner, Carol got home.

Although the past perfect is sometimes not used in this type of situation, we recommend you use the past perfect, especially in formal writing.

There are other phrases that are commonly used with the past perfect:

by   (time)             by the time          when

By, by the time, and when mean before.

Take a look at the following examples:

By 3:30, Carol had already gotten home.
By the time Carol got home, Sam had already cooked dinner.
When Carol got home, Sam had already cooked dinner.

Now, let's go back to the first sentence above.  

We all felt so sick.  We took strange medicine.  

Which happened first?  The answer is we don't know.  The writer of these 2 sentences didn't use the past perfect.  As far as we know, these 2 events could have happened at the same time.  Now, you know why using the past perfect is so important.  

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Quiz time

Directions: Read and rewrite the following sentences using the past perfect.  Combine the sentences using the word or phrase given.  The first one has been done for you.

1.  First: Bill bought a house in Barcelona.

     Second: Mary moved to Barcelona.

     Phrase or Word: Before  

     Answer: Before Mary moved to Barcelona, Bill had already bought a house there.

 

2.  First: The children finished dinner.

     Second: They ate ice cream.

     Phrase or Word: After

 

3.  First: Millions of Native Americans (American Indians) were in North America for thousands of years.

     Second: Christopher Columbus landed in North America in 1492.

     Phrase or Word: When

 

4.  First: In 1753, Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier became the world’s first human flier by using a balloon.

    Second: The Wright Brothers flew their first plane on December 17, 1903.

    Phrase or Word: By the time

 

5.  First: The world went from the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk to the moon.

     Second: 1970

     Phrase or Word: By 1970

 

6.  First: The world’s population hit the 6 billion mark.

     Second: December 31, 2000

     Phrase or Word: By the end of the 20th century.

 

7.  First: The National Free Bank made bad investments.

     Second: They went bankrupt.

     Phrase or Word: After

 

8.  First: Professor Lee taught at Beijing university for 32 years.

    Second: Professor Lee retired.

    Phrase or Word: When

 

9.  First: Robert Peary and Matthew Henson reached the North Pole in 1909.

    Second: Robert Scott and four others reached the South Pole in 1912.

    Phrase or Word: By the time

 

10.  First: The buffalo almost became extinct.

      Second: 1900

      Phrase or Word: By 1900  

Have you visited our TOEFL Help Center?  Go to http://www.MyEnglishTeacher.net/TOEFL 

 

Answers are in red.

1.  First: Bill bought a house in Barcelona.

     Second: Mary moved to Barcelona.

     Phrase or Word: Before

    Before Mary moved to Barcelona, Bill had already bought a house there.

 

2.  First: The children finished dinner.

     Second: They ate ice cream.

     Phrase or Word: After

    After the children had finished dinner, they ate ice cream.

 

3.  First: Millions of Native Americans (American Indians) were in North America for thousands of years.

     Second: Christopher Columbus landed in North America in 1492.

     Phrase or Word: When

    When Christopher Columbus landed in North America in 1492, millions of Native Americans had already been there for thousands of years.

 

4.  First: In 1753, Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier became the world’s first human flier by using a balloon.

     Second: The Wright Brothers flew their first plane on December 17, 1903.

     Phrase or Word: By the time

     By the time the Wright Brothers flew their first plane in 1903, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier had already become the world’s first human flier 150 years earlier by using a balloon.

 

5.  First: The world went from the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk to the moon.

     Second: 1970

     Phrase or Word: By 1970

     By 1970, the world had gone from the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk to the moon in just 66 years.

 

6.  First: The world’s population hit the 6 billion mark.

     Second: December 31, 2000

     Phrase or Word: By the end of the 20th century.

     By the end of the 20th century, the world’s population had hit the 6 billion mark.

 

7.  First: The National Free Bank made bad investments.

     Second: They went bankrupt.

     Phrase or Word: After

     After the National Free Bank had made bad investments, they went bankrupt.

 

8.  First: Professor Lee taught at Beijing university for 32 years.

     Second: Professor Lee retired.

     Phrase or Word: When

     When Professor Lee retired, he had already taught at Beijing University for 32 years.

 

9.  First: Robert Peary and Matthew Henson reached the North Pole in 1909.

     Second: Robert Scott and four others reached the South Pole in 1912.

     Phrase or Word: By the time

     By the time Robert Scott and four others reached the South Pole in 1912, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson had already reached the North Pole 3 years earlier.

 

10.  First: The buffalo almost became extinct.

      Second: 1900

      Phrase or Word: By 1900

      By 1900, the buffalo had almost become extinct.  

 

  Rules to Remember!

1

The words already and just go between had and the past participle.

     Example: When Professor Lee retired, he had already taught at Beijing University for 32 years.  

2

The negative of the past perfect is formed by putting not between had and the past participle.  The word still is often used with the negative form of the past perfect.

     Example: By the end of the book, I still had not understood what the author’s opinion was.

3

Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not use specific years in both clauses (parts of the sentence).  Even though you don't write the year the event happened, you can still be specific.  Notice the way we rewrote #4 above.  Both of the original sentences had years; however, only one of the clauses in the final answer has a year written.  Instead of writing 1753, we wrote 150 years earlier.

     First: In 1753, Jean-François Pilatre de Rozier became the world’s first human flier by using a balloon.

    Second: The Wright Brothers flew their first plane on December 17, 1903.

     Phrase or Word: By the time

     By the time the Wright Brothers flew their first plane in 1903, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier had already become the world’s first human flier 150 years earlier by using a balloon.

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