What is the Past Perfect?
Compare the two sentences:
- The train left at 10.00. I arrived at the station at 10.05.
(TWO sentences, both in Simple Past, in the same order they happened – the train left and then I arrived)
2. When I arrived at the station, the train had already left.
(ONE sentence, a linking word, in a different order to how they happened)
Both sentences are correct. But Sentence 2 sounds so much better!
So what’s the difference?
Sentence 1 is simple.
Sentence 2 is complex.
Simple is good. Complex is good – if you use it accurately.
As you can see, there is no need to use the Past Perfect.
But it does add a nice style, sophistication and drama, especially when you are telling stories. This would be fantastic in Speaking Part 2.
When do we use Past Perfect?
We can use Past Perfect when
- there are 2 actions in the past (The train left. I arrived.)
- you want to link the 2 actions with a linking word (When…)
- you want to add drama and excitement to your story
Let’s look at another example:
I forgot my passport. I realised.
(TWO sentences. Both in Simple Past, in the same order they happened.)
I realised that I had forgotten my passport.
(ONE sentence, a linking word, in a different order from how they happened)
Which one sounds better? Of course, the second one.
So we can use the Past Perfect with phrases like I realised that…, I noticed that…, I remembered that…I discovered that…I found out that…
We used it a lot in the Speaking Challenge, to answer questions like:
‘Have you ever lost your phone?’
‘Yes, I was travelling to work and when I sat down I realised my phone had fallen out of my pocket’.
‘Have you ever made a complaint?’ ‘
‘Yes I was staying in a hotel, and I had never been to a hotel by myself before. When they gave me the bill, I noticed that they had charged me for lots of things I hadn’t ordered!’.
We also use Past Perfect to explain situations in the past (the linking word is now because) e.g.
- I was hungry because I hadn’t had any breakfast.
- I failed the test because I hadn’t revised.
How do we make the Past Perfect?
That’s the easy bit – had + Past Participle:
When I got to the airport the plane had already taken off.
I tried to pay but I realised that I had left my wallet at home.
He was in hospital because he had broken his leg.
Before I came to the UK, I had never eaten British food.
So how can we use Past Perfect in Task 1?
Graphs/Tables in Task 1 usually describe a time period in the past.
So usually you only need to use the Simple Past Tense e.g. Between 2000 and 2010 sales increased.
But you can make that sentence more complex: use the linking word ‘BY’ and a date to describe what happened in the period before that date.
By 2010, the percentage of mobile phone users had reached 40%.
This follows the rule of 2 things in the past
- the date (2010 is in the past)
- the action before 2010 (40% owned a phone)
But the date comes first.
In 2000, 20% of the population owned a mobile phone.
By 2005, this had risen to 30%.
In 2010, 40% of the population owned a mobile phone.