Understanding Grammar: Past Simple v Past Perfect
In this week's Premier Skills English Podcast, Jack and Rich talk about a specific structure that learners often find difficult: the past perfect. They look at how we create the past perfect when we use it in real language and contrast its use with the past simple. They introduce the language in simple dialogues to help you understand the language in context and then give you some advice about when to use the past perfect. Further down the page, there are a number of explanations, the transcript, interactive activities, a quiz and a discussion to help you understand. Your task is to use the past perfect in three different situations. Don't forget to listen to the end of the podcast because we also have a new football phrase for you to guess. Enjoy!
Jack: Hey, Rich. What have you been up to?
Rich: Well, it was my birthday yesterday.
Jack: Oh! Brilliant! Happy Birthday! What did you do?
Rich: It was really nice actually. When I got home from work I discovered that my family had arranged a surprise birthday party.
Jack: A nice surprise?
Rich: Yes, it was. They’d invited some family around, had wrapped a few presents and they’d made a cake. It was really nice.
Jack: Did they manage to fit all the candles on the cake?
Rich: Very funny! No, they didn’t … I get one candle per decade these days!
Welcome - Past Simple v Past Perfect
Rich: Hello my name’s Rich
Jack: and I’m Jack
Rich: and welcome to this week’s Premier Skills English podcast
Jack: Where we talk about football and help you with your English.
Jack: What’s happening this week, Rich?
Rich: In this week’s podcast, we are going to talk about grammar and specifically we’re going to talk about the past.
Jack: We’re going to look at how we use the past simple and the past perfect. These are often called tenses and you may have seen them called the past simple tense and past perfect tense in your English books or in English class.
Rich: We’re just going to call them the past simple and past perfect and we’re going to compare them.
Jack: That’s right. We’re going to look at when you should use the past simple and when you should use the past perfect.
Rich: Why are we looking at this grammar point this week, Jack?
Jack: Well, I’m happy that you asked me that. Last week, we got a message on the website from one of our regular listeners - Milos from Serbia. He said that his biggest problem when learning English is grammar and he said that he had a specific problem with the past perfect.
Rich: So, we’re going to help Milos from Serbia today.
Jack: Exactly. And if you have any language problems you would like us to talk about in our podcasts, send us an email or a message on the website. We’ll try to help you in a future podcast.
Rich: Before we move on, we’d just like to thank an English teacher who got in touch with us this week.
Jack: Richard Hill, who is an English teacher based in Cyprus, contacted us as he had spotted a few spelling mistakes or, as I prefer to call them - typos, on a few of our pages.
Rich: If anybody notices anything that needs changing on the site we’re always happy to hear from you and we’ll make the changes as quickly as we can.
Jack: Thanks Richard for your support and a big hello to you and all your students.
Rich: And we’d also like to remind you about the Activity Week that’s live in the Premier Skills English Live section. There are six lessons about the language of health and fitness. If you complete the lessons and pass the end of activity week test, you can get a certificate.
Jack: We’ve got another Activity Week coming up, too. On Monday the 12th March, we’re going to be live on Facebook to talk about a new Activity Week all about films and how watching films can help you learn English.
Rich: That’s right. I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s get back to the podcast.
Jack: Don’t forget to listen to the end because we have a new football phrase for you to guess.
Rich: So, we are going to do two roleplays. In both roleplays, you will hear examples of the past simple and past perfect. After the roleplays, we will look at the language in a little bit more detail.
Jack: We want you to listen to the roleplay and answer this question. What is Rich upset about?
Jack: How was class?
Rich: It was embarrassing! Some of the students are really cheeky!
Jack: What’s the matter? They can’t be that bad. They’re only 12 years old.
Rich: I know, I know, but guess what happened today?
Jack: I have no idea but I think you’re about to tell me.
Rich: When I arrived everybody was sitting very quietly. I thought this is good because they are normally really noisy. The week before, there’d been paper aeroplanes flying about all over the place.
Jack: So it was good then. A nice calm disciplined classroom. That’s good.
Rich: Good? Then I sat down ... on the floor! Someone had replaced my chair with a broken one. The students, of course, all started laughing!
Jack: Oh dear! That’s not funny at all! Well, maybe a little bit. And, how was the rest the of the class?
Rich: It was alright I suppose.
Jack: There you go. You’re overreacting. They’re not that bad and I think it’s always good to inject a bit of humour at the beginning of class.
Rich: Mmm, maybe but not at my expense!
Rich: Here is the second roleplay. We want you to answer this question. What is Jack upset about?
Rich: I’m all right but you have a face like thunder. What’s up?
Jack: Computers! That’s what’s up?
Jack: I was writing this week’s podcast offline because I’d decided to go to a cafe to work a bit from there.
Rich: Coffee and cake?
Jack: Just a coffee actually. Anyway, before I’d had my coffee the waiter came over to tell me that the wifi wasn’t working so I had to work offline.
Jack: Yes, indeed. Well, I’d nearly finished when my laptop crashed!
Jack: If I’d had just a few minutes more, I’d have been able to finish it. I’ve got to write it all over again now!
Rich: You should have had some cake!
Jack: In the roleplays, you probably heard lots of examples of the past perfect and in this language focus we’re going to give you three tips about using the past perfect when you’re writing and speaking.
Rich: And then we have a task for you to do to show your understanding of the past perfect and how it is different from the past simple.
Jack: But, before we look at those three bits of advice, let’s remind everyone what the past perfect is.
Rich: We usually use the past perfect when we are talking about two things in the past and one of them happened before the other.
Jack: In the first roleplay, Rich sat on a broken chair and fell on the floor. What happened before Rich tried to sit down?
Rich: One of my students replaced my chair with a broken chair.
Jack: So when Rich told me about him falling on the floor, he used the past perfect to talk about his students replacing the chair because that happened before he sat down.
Rich: I said “Then I sat down ... on the floor! Someone had replaced my chair with a broken one. “
Jack: In the second roleplay, the two actions were: I nearly finished my work and my laptop crashed.
Rich: Which action happened first? Jack said he had nearly finished his work when his laptop crashed.
Jack: Yes - that’s what made me angry. I hate computers sometimes.
Rich: We create the past perfect by using had and the past participle. The past participle is the third form of the verb, for example, gone is the past participle of go. Go, went, gone. Taken is the past participle of take. Take, took, taken.
Jack: So, those are the basics. Now, we’re going to share three tips that will help you when deciding to use the past perfect or not.
Rich: It’s not always necessary to use the past perfect when we are talking about two or more events that happened at different times in the past.
Jack: That’s right. Let’s look at a couple of examples. The first one is: Zlatan Ibrahimovic had played in many countries before he played in the Premier League.
Rich: This sentence is correct but because the order of events is made clear by using ‘before’ you can also use the past simple: Zlatan Ibrahimovic played in many countries before he played in the Premier League.
Jack: Another example from the roleplay is: before I’d had my coffee the waiter came over. The past perfect could be replaced by the past simple here and the meaning would still be clear because the word before makes the order of events clear.
Rich: In the example: I sat down and I realised the chair had been replaced we need the past perfect to show that the chair had been replaced at an earlier time.
Jack: Use contractions when you use the past perfect. If you look back at the roleplays you can see that we don’t usually say I had or they had we say I’d, you’d and they’d.
Rich: Jack said: I’d nearly finished when my laptop crashed.
Jack: And Rich said: they’d made him a cake and they’d wrapped a few presents when he was speaking about his birthday at the start of this podcast.
Rich: Students always ask me about the structure had had. It’s important to remember that had can be an auxiliary verb and a main verb. So an example sentence using had had could be: I had had a good breakfast so I left the house feeling full and happy.
Jack: Or because the auxiliary verb is usually contracted we could say: I’d had a good breakfast so I left the house feeling full and happy.
Rich: And you can see another example of this in the earlier roleplay when Jack said: Before I’d had my coffee the waiter came over.
Jack: The past perfect is often described in different ways. Here are three more examples of how you might see the past perfect being used and how it might be described in English books and classes.
Rich: In the end though, the past perfect is still being used to compare two times in the past in these examples as well.
Jack: We can use it to talk about past wishes. I wish Arsenal had won the Cup Final last week.
Rich: We also use the past perfect when we use past conditionals. For example, Manchester Utd would have lost if David De Gea hadn't made a brilliant save.
Jack: We also use it to talk about experience up to a point in the past. For example, that goal by Pele was the best I had ever seen until that goal Ibrahimovic scored last night.
Rich: And we often use it in reported speech. Jack said earlier that his laptop had crashed.
Jack: That’s right. When we tell someone else what someone said we use the past perfect if the original speaker had used the present perfect or past simple but reported speech is quite complicated. I think that’s a topic for another podcast.
Rich: Our task for you this week is to use the past perfect in three different ways.
Jack: We have three mini tasks for you to do.
Rich: Mini task number one: Tell us about a time that you were too late for something? Why were you late? And why were you too late?
Jack: For example: I remember my car breaking down a few months ago on the way to the match. I arrived really late and the first half had already finished.
Rich: Mini task number two: Tell us an important or funny conversation that you have had with someone recently. What did they say?
Jack: For example: I went to the doctor’s recently and I told him that I was going to Indonesia soon and the doctor asked me if I’d had any jabs … injections recently.
Rich: Mini task number three: Tell us something that you did last year and then tell us what you would have done if you hadn't done this thing.
Jack: For example: Last year I went to the south coast of England for my holidays. If I hadn’t gone there, I’d probably have gone to France.
Rich: Did you hear any examples of the past perfect? We want to see you using the past perfect in all your answers at the bottom of this page.
Rich: Have you got a football phrase for us this week?
Jack: Yes, I have, but first, last week’s football phrase. The phrase was to pull a muscle. This is a phrase that can happen to anybody doing sport or exercise, not just footballers. This is the general phrase we use when someone hurts or strains some part of your body.
Rich: Some of you got it right. Well done to Liubomyr and Violinka from Ukraine, Giovi from Poland, Lakerwang from China and Kwesimanifest from Ghana. What’s this week’s football phrase?
Jack: This week’s football phrase is ****-**** *********. This phrase means a goal that is scored in the very final moment to make the scores level. It describes the final moment or minute of a match and uses a word which means a deep breath - like when you have been running or when you’re shocked.
Rich: A tricky one this week. Let’s see who gets it.
Jack: Right, that’s all we have time for this week! Don’t forget to write your answers to our questions and make a guess at our football phrase in the comments below.
Rich: Don’t forget to sign up for our Premier Skills English Live Lessons on the Premier Skills English homepage. Just hit the live tab.
Jack: If you have enjoyed this podcast or found it useful, leave us a rating or review and that will help other people find us. Bye for now and enjoy your football.
How much did you understand?
In the podcast, Rich and Jack used some words and phrases that might be new for you. Do you know the words or phrases in bold?
It was embarrassing! Some of the students are really cheeky!
I’m all right but you have a face like thunder.
There were a few more tricky words in the podcast. Do you know what they all mean? Try the activity below, then, listen to the podcast again to hear how we used the words.
In this week's podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about the past perfect. We use the past perfect when we are talking about the past and want to talk about something else which happened further in the past. We create the past perfect with had + past participle (third form of the verb). Here are a couple of examples from the podcast:
When I got home from work I discovered that my family had arranged a surprise birthday party.
I sat down and realised that someone had replaced my chair with a broken one.
In these sentences, we can see the most recent action(s) uses the past simple while the action before this uses the past perfect. The action that happened earlier can be a few minutes or many years earlier, this is not important. We use the past perfect to show that one action happened at an earlier time in the past than another action.
We often use the past perfect when we talk about problems and their causes. This is because the cause of a problem often happens at an earlier time. In this activity, match the problems (past simple) with their causes (past perfect). Then, look at each sentence and think about why we use the past perfect.
Are there any other ways we use the past perfect?
The past perfect is used most often to compare two different times in the past but it can also be used in some other ways. Some of these uses also compare two different times in the past:
- to talk about past wishes (I wish Arsenal had beaten Manchester City last week.)
- to talk about past conditions (Manchester Utd would have lost if David De Gea hadn't made a brilliant save.)
- to talk about something someone else said i.e. reported speech (In the podcast, Jack said that his laptop had crashed.)
- to talk about experience up to a point in the past (That goal by Pele was the best I'd ever seen until I saw that goal Ibrahimovic scored last night.)
In this activity, take a look at the sentences that use the past perfect and decide why we are using the past perfect in each case.
Using the Past Perfect
Our task for you this week is to use the past perfect in three different ways. We have three mini tasks for you to do. We want to see examples of the past perfect in all of your answers. If you need some help, listen again to Jack's answers in the podcast. Write your answers in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Mini task number one: Tell us about a time that you were too late for something? Why were you late? And why were you too late?
Mini task number two: Tell us an important or funny conversation that you have had with someone recently. What did they say?
Mini task number three: Tell us something that you did last year and then tell us what you would have done if you hadn't done this thing.
What do you think?
In this week’s podcast, Jack and Rich spoke about the past perfect and roleplayed two situations.
Did you always behave in the classroom? Did you or your classmates ever play a joke or trick on a teacher?
Does your computer ever crash? Do you ever have WIFI problems?
Look at the tasks above about the past perfect and write your answers.
Remember to write your guess for this week's football phrase, too!