In English, the past perfect tense describes an action completed before another past event, or an action completed before a specific time focus. Grammatically, as the present perfect does, the past perfect likewise uses the main verb's past participle but with this big difference: the past participle form is paired off with "had" — the past form of "have" — to become the past perfect component of the sentence. And one more crucial thing: this past perfect component must be paired off with at least one other action in the simple past tense.

In effect, the typical past perfect sentence — with one notable exception that we will take up for last — consists of at least two separate actions, one in the past perfect and the others in the simple past. This is shown by the past perfect timeline below:

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