Past perfect aspect – tips and activities


The concept of the past perfect is easier to grasp than that of the present perfect (see teaching tip for present perfect) partly because the event is usually clearly in the past. Still, when discussing the use of past perfect in relation to the past it is worthwhile to highlight the PERFECT aspect, as this may help make sense of the present perfect. For example, a quick explanation could be:

The past perfect can be used to communicate something before the past, or looking back from a past moment in time. This is what PERFECT means. The use of a timeline also works particularly well with this explanation. For example, the sentence:

She had left the party when he arrived.

Can be illustrated like this:

The past perfect is usually dealt with after the present perfect. The activities below are for intermediate level students and higher.

Join the sentences

A simple exercise to manipulate and focus on form involves joining two sentences together.

Tony got out of bed. Before that he drank a cup of coffee.

When Tony had drunk a cup of coffee he got out of bed.

This is why many teachers would call a “Murphy” type activity (based on Raymond Murphy’s Essential Grammar in Use series – CUP). With just a little adjustment it can be personalized.Change the sentences to the first person singular.

I got out of bed this morning. Before that I drank a cup of coffee.

First students combine the two sentences.

When I had drunk a cup of coffee I got out of bed this morning.

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