Past Tense Past Participle Past Perfect

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The present perfect tense says that an action was completed at a time before the present, and the results or consequences of the action are relevant now. The present perfect is formed using the present tense of the verb 'to have' and the past participle of the main verb.

  1. Past Tense Past Participle Past Perfect Present Perfect
  2. The Past Perfect Tense
  3. Past Tense Past Participle Past Perfect Exercises

A past participle, in the context we’re using it today, is the second part of a compound verb that’s used to form perfect and passive tenses. Past participles usually ends in an -ed. Verbs can appear in any one of three perfect tenses: present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect. Let’s start by talking about present perfect verbs. English Help: Verbs - Simple Past Tense, Past participles, how past participles can be used in the present perfect tense, past perfect tense, future perfect tense, to form modal verbs, how some commonly used irregular verbs: the base form (infinitive), past tense and past participle.

The past perfect tense says that an action was completed at a time before another action happened in the past. The past perfect is formed using the past tense of the verb 'to have' and the past participle of the main verb.

Let's use a timeline to look at how the present perfect and the past perfect relate to one another. Point A will be the action of the kids eating dinner. Point B will be when the nanny goes home. Point C will be now, the present. We are always speaking from point C.

Past Tense Past Participle Past Perfect Present Perfect

past ←----------A----------B----------C----------→ present


Present perfect: The kids have eaten dinner. When to use ing form or infinitive. [They ate dinner at point A, it is point C now. Note: For the present perfect, point B does not need to exist. A and C are the only points that matter.]

Past perfect: The kids had eaten dinner before the nanny went home. [The kids ate dinner at point A, the nanny went home at point B, it is point C now.]

The difference is that in the present perfect example, the result of A is that the kids do not need to eat now, at point C, but in the past perfect example, the result of A is that at point B, no one needed to prepare dinner for the kids.

I hope this helps.

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Contrary to what I used to think, the terms past perfect and past participle cannot be used interchangeably to refer to the past perfect tense. This is because, simply put, a past participle is a word used to construct the past perfect tense. But in this post, I will explain that with much more detail.

Background Knowledge:

To understand the difference between past perfect and past participle, you need to know what an auxiliary verb is.

Let me explain using an example sentence: I had eaten a burger.
In the above sentence, the subject is I and the object is burger. You’ll notice that there are 2 verbs: had and eaten. What the subject did to the object is always the main verb; in this case, since the subject ate the object, the main verb is eaten.

It may seem like the word had has no meaning—and in a way, that is true. Most verbs are action words, but the only reason we insert had in the sentence is to change the tense to past perfect tense; it is not an action word. Therefore, in the above sentence, had is an auxiliary verb.

Auxiliary verbs are always needed to construct passive voice sentences and certain tenses (more on that later).
For example, here is a passive voice sentence: Sam was taken into custody by the police.

In the above sentence, there are 2 verbs: was (a conjugation of the infinitive “to be”) and taken (a conjugation of the infinitive “to take”). The subject (the police) is taking the object (Sam), so the main verb is taken. Therefore, was is merely an auxiliary verb.

Sentences can have more than one auxiliary verb. This happens in the future perfect, future continuous, present perfect continuous, past perfect continuous, and future perfect continuous tenses. (Your thoughts probably resemble this symbol right now: “?!?!”. But don’t worry; you definitely don’t need to know the names of all of these tenses.)
An example of a sentence with more than one auxiliary verb is: In 2023, he will have been working for 15 years. (This sentence is in future perfect continuous tense.) There are 3 auxiliary verbs in this sentence: will, have, and been.

In simple words, an auxiliary verb is a verb that is only inserted into a sentence to change the tense or voice of that sentence—it is NOT an action word.

Now that you know about auxiliary verbs, let’s look at past perfect tense.

Past Perfect:

There are 2 kinds of past tense: past simple and past perfect.

Past simple is exactly what it sounds like: the past. For example, if I say, “I entered the room,” I’m talking about what I did in the past; therefore, entered is the past simple form of the infinitive “to enter.”


I like to think of past perfect asthe past of the past. This is because you usually use past perfect tense when you’re already talking about the past and then you want to go even further back.
Take these sentences, for example: “During lunch, as soon as Sam ate the burger, her mom handed her another one. But she had eaten a filling breakfast that morning, so she was too full to eat anything more.”
The narrator starts off talking about what Sam did in the past, during lunch–she ate a burger–then goes back to that morning, when Sam ate a filling breakfast. Since the narrator was already narrating in past tense, they use past perfect because are going further back in time.

In summary, past perfect refers to a tense. But to construct this tense, you need a past participle.

Past Participle:

Past participle, however, is a form of a verb, which means that the term refers to a single word. This form is used when constructing passive voice sentences and sentences in any perfect tense (more on this later). So what does this form look like?

It depends on the verb. Sometimes, the past participle of a verb is the same as the past simple form of that verb. For example, “caught” is both the past simple and the past participle form of the infinitive “to catch.”
Some verbs have a different past participle and past simple form. For example, the past simple form of the infinitive “to eat” is “ate” while the past participle is “eaten.”

The Past Perfect Tense

If that is the case, how do you identify past participles and differentiate them from the past simple forms of verbs? Well, past participles are always accompanied by auxiliary verbs.
In the example sentence (“Sam was taken into custody by the police”), was is an auxiliary verb. The other verb (taken)—which I previously referred to as the main verb—is the past participle. The past participle form of any verb will always remain the same (meaning that the past participle form of the infinitive to take is always taken).

Past participle vs past perfect

If the main verb in a sentence stands alone, it is not a participle. For example, in the sentence “I had caught the ball,” caught is the past participle of “to catch,” whereas in the sentence “I caught the ball,” caught is the past simple form.

Here’s where it gets confusing: Past participles are not only used in the past perfect tense; they are also used in the present perfect and future perfect tenses. In other words, past participles are used for all perfect tenses. I have written some example sentences below that will help you understand this better.

Example Sentences (blue=auxiliary verb, red=past participle):

The following sentences are in past perfect tense.

  • She hadgotten an outstanding test score.
  • We hadtaken a taxi to the airport.
  • They had not ordered dinner yet.

The following sentences are in present perfect tense.

  • I havegiven each of you a textbook.
  • She hasn’t played guitar in three months.
  • They havelived in that house for 13 years.

The following sentences are in future perfect tense.

  • Hopefully, I will havegotten my PhD already.
  • In 2 years, he will haverecovered from the injury.
  • We will havefinished our project.

The following sentences are in passive voice.

  • He waskilled at 3 in the afternoon.
  • The letters weremailed to me on Wednesday.
  • They werebothered by their neighbor’s loud trumpet.

Past Tense Past Participle Past Perfect Exercises