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Session 2

Time to learn a useful tense for telling stories – the past perfect tense. In fact, you could say it's perfect for stories! We've got two quizzes to test you, and then it's time for 6 Minute Grammar.

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Activity 3

6 Minute Grammar

The past perfect tense

Time for 6 Minute Grammar. Join Catherine, Rob and Harry for lots of explanations and examples of the past perfect tense in action. Will you get all the quiz questions correct?

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Rob
Hello. Welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Rob.

Catherine
And me, Catherine. Hello.

Rob
Today we're talking about the past perfect tense.

Catherine
Yes, the past perfect. When we want to talk about two things that happened at different times in the past, we can use the past perfect tense - that's a subject with had plus the past participle. And here's Harry with our first example:

Harry          
Mary rang John's doorbell at 8.15 yesterday, but John had gone to work.

Catherine
And let's hear that again.

Harry          
Mary rang John's doorbell at 8.15 yesterday, but John had gone to work.

Rob   
Thanks Harry. Now we could put these two events in the past simple tense, something like this:

Harry          
John went to work. Then Mary rang John's doorbell.

Rob
And once again Harry.

Harry          
John went to work. Then Mary rang John's doorbell.

Catherine   
Or, we can change the order of events in the sentence, and use the past perfect - that's had with a past participle - to show which event actually happened first.

Harry          
Mary rang John's doorbell at 8.15 yesterday, but John had gone to work.

Catherine
And once again.

Harry          
Mary rang John's doorbell at 8.15 yesterday, but John had gone to work.

Rob   
And here, the past perfect in John had gone shows that this happened before the past simple phrase Mary rang John's doorbell. So we have: Mary rang John's doorbell at 8.15 yesterday, but John had gone to work. 

Catherine   
Exactly. Now, let's look at some more examples.

Harry          
I was pleased when I got a text from Jim, because I'd lost his number.

Rob
Let's hear that again.

Harry          
I was pleased when I got a text from Jim, because I'd lost his number.

Catherine   
So we've got two past events. First, Harry lost Jim's number; then he got his text. But in Harry's sentence, the event that happened first in time is mentioned second in the sentence.

Rob   
So he uses the past perfect - I'd lost his number - to show that the second event he mentions, actually happened first.

Harry          
I was pleased when I got a text from Jim, because I'd lost his number.

Rob   
Now in spoken English, the past perfect can sometimes be difficult to hear. 

Catherine   
Yes that's true - in our example just now, the two words I had are shortened to I'd. I'd lost his number. 

Rob   
So had is shortened to just a /d/ sound. Listen out for the short /d/ sound in this next example: 

Harry          
When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she'd washed her phone.

Rob
And again.

Harry          
When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she'd washed her phone.

Catherine
Did you catch that?

Rob
First, Mrs Brown washed her phone in the washing machine. Then she opened the washing machine. Then she realised... She'd washed her phone!

Catherine
Yes, and the phrase she had washed is shortened to she'd washed. One more time please Harry.

Harry          
When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she'd washed her phone.

Rob   
Oops - that's an expensive mistake. Poor Mrs Brown!

Catherine   
Yeah, she won't do that again!

IDENT        
6 Minute Grammar from bbclearningenglish.com.

Catherine
Now for a quiz. I'm going to say some sentences and, as you listen, try to decide what happened first, and what happened second. Here's the first one. I woke up late because I'd forgotten to set the alarm.

Rob   
OK, so the past perfect here is I'd forgotten, and the order of events was: first, I forgot to set the alarm, and second, I woke up late. Here it is again. 

Harry          
I woke up late because I'd forgotten to set the alarm.

Catherine   
Great. Another one: I hadn't brought a towel, so I couldn't have a shower. 

Rob   
How embarrassing. OK, and we've got the negative of had, which is hadn't. So first, I didn't bring a towel, and second, I couldn't have a shower. Here it is again. 

Harry
I hadn't brought a towel, so I couldn't have a shower.

Catherine   
Good. And for the last one: When they got to the station, they realised they'd left the tickets at home. 

Rob   
This one has three events: first, they left the tickets at home. Second, they got to the station. And third, they realised that the tickets were at home.

Catherine   
Yes and the past perfect phrase they had left, was shortened to they'd left - which helps us show that order.

Harry
When they got to the station, they realised they'd left the tickets at home.

Rob   
Now, a mistake people sometimes make with the past perfect is: they use it too much, or they use it just because they are talking about something that happened a long time ago. Such as...

Harry
Jackie had gone to a football match last month.

Catherine   
Yes - there's only one past event here, so we probably just need the past simple tense:

Harry
Jackie went to a football match last month.

Rob   
So that's the past perfect. It's made of had plus the past participle and we mainly use it to talk about a past event that happened before another past event.

Catherine   
There's more about this on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.

All     
Bye.

Download

You can download 6 Minute Grammar from our Intermediate Unit 7 Downloads page. Remember to subscribe to the podcast version!

 

End of Session 2

That's the end of this session - we hope it was useful! In Session 3, we'll catch up with the Tip Top Trading team. Anna has to prepare someone for a disappointment - but does she know what to say?

Session Grammar

  • Past perfect: meaning and use

    When we're talking about two past events, we can use the past perfect to say which happened first.

    Form

    The past perfect is made with subject + had/hadn’t + past participle.

    Positive

    • When my parents got to the station, they realised they had left the tickets at home.

    Negative

    • Kerry couldn’t leave work on time because she hadn’t written the report.

    Question

    • Had you finished your homework before the movie started?