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Thursday, May 7, 2009

How to Use Past Perfect

A reader asked whether this sentence is correct:

I took another look at the questions that had spurred me to mention education in the first place.

He wanted to know if "had spurred" was in the correct tense.

Yes, that is correct, and it's called past perfect. You get a past perfect tense when you add the word "had" to a past participle (a past participle is something such as spoken or broken). Past perfect indicates something that happened before another event in the past.

In this sentence, there are two past actions: "I took another look" and "questions had spurred me." The use of "had" indicates that this action came before the other one, so first, the questions spurred him, and then he took another look.

Here's another example:

I had just opened the door when the phone rang.

Here, the two past events are I opened the door, and the phone rang. First comes the action with the helping verb had: I had opened the door; then the phone rang.

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