Without doubt, the verb tenses that throw the most people are Past Perfect Verb Tenses. In my Yellow Highlighter Workshops where I edit material for Black Velvet Seductions and help authors perfect their work prior to submission to publishers, entry in contests, or self-publishing, corrections involving past perfect verb tenses are some of the most common changes I suggest.
You can think of past perfect verb tenses as double jump backs, double back flips, or as double past tense verbs. This verb form is used to indicate that an action happened at some point in the past…before something else happened. For practical purposes, you can usually think of this as something that happened before the present moment in your past tense story.
Past perfect tenses are not as complicated as they seem.
You can think of them as double jump backs or double back flips or double past tense and this will likely help you remember their purpose. You’re using them to take a double backward step into the past.
If you are writing along describing the present moment of your story which is written in past tense and you need to talk about something that happened before now in the story this is when you double back flip, double jump back, or use a double past tense—aka past perfect tense verb.
Past perfect tenses are formed with had and the past participle form of the verb.
This can get a bit dicey because we have regular verbs and irregular verbs.
Simply, regular verbs are verbs whose past tense forms are created by adding d or ed.
Irregular verbs are verbs in which the past tense verb of the verb is a different word entirely.
Run/Ran is an example of an irregular verb. Ran rather than runned is the proper past tense form of Run.
Sing/Sang is another example of an irregular verb because sang rather than singed is the proper past tense form of sing.
Speak/Spoke is another example of an irregular verb because spoke rather than speaked is the proper past tense form of speak.
There are many sites on the internet which have lists of the verb forms.
To find the past perfect tense of irregular verbs one of the easiest things to do is simply Google it.
For example if you want to know the proper verb forms of drink you can simply type verb forms of drink into Google and learn that the base form of the verb drink is drink, the past tense form is drank, the past participle form is drunk, and the gerund form is drinking. If you want to know the past participle or the perfect past tense of a verb you can simply put Google to work by typing perfect past tense speak and Google will find you sites which lists the perfect past tense of the word speak. After you look these up a few times you will get good at remembering them.
Though verbs are complex…and there are many forms of verbs for the most part we can keep it simple.
Normal past tense verbs show things happening in the past. Most of our stories are written in past tense.
Past perfect tense verbs show things that happened before something else that happened in the past. For practical purposes…this is usually something that happened before the present moment that you are describing in your story which is written in past tense. You can remember these as double back steps, double back flips, or double past tense verbs. I find these ways of remembering easier because I can pair them with a mental image of someone doing a back flip…and well…it just works for me.
There are a couple of places in stories written in past tense that we might use present tense verbs. This gets dicey because since dialogue is captured as it is spoken in present tense we don’t write it in past tense unless the character is talking about something that happened in the past…so we typically don’t use perfect past tense much within dialogue. The same is true with internal monologue which is in general written in present tense.
A character might use past tense to describe something that happened in the past for example “Jim said your car would be ready at 1 o’clock,” Trevor said. In this case, Trevor is conveying something that happened in the past. In the past (sometime before now) Jim said the car would be ready.
A lot of the time characters are talking about things happening in the present moment of the story…and that dialogue uses present tense verbs.
“I am so angry with him I could spit nails,” Jean confessed. She is, right now, in the present moment of the story (even though the story itself is written in the past tense) angry enough to spit nails.
Most people manage the verbs within the dialogue without much issue so I’m not going to focus a great deal on that here.
There are a few simple things to remember when working with verbs:
- Past tense verbs describe things in the past.
- Past perfect tense verbs describe things that happened before a certain point in the past. (Keep it simple and think the present moment of your story here.)
- Past perfect tense verbs can be found on Google. Just search for the past perfect tense of the present tense verb you are looking for.
- Past perfect tense verbs are formed with had + the past participle form of the verb. (If you’re not sure of the past participle form of a verb you can always look it up. Google is your friend—and mine.)