Look at the example below

The patient had died before the doctor came.

My teacher tells me that we use past perfect only when there are two events in order. The more past takes perfect form and less past takes simple past form. Like in this example the death of patient happened before Hence it is more past --> Past Perfect form. The arrival of the doctor happens later. So, it takes simple past.

Is there any instance when we use past perfect in a sentence to describe one event? Or do we always need two events?

  • The event can be implied; not necessarily stated outright. You could have an entire conversation with it after the single event is known. Please find what is called a timeline for English learners, it will help you. Your teacher is right, though.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


Tim: We hadn't arrived when the criminals were apprehended.

OK: the first event is: the criminals were stopped.

John: But had you already arrived?
Tim: No, we hadn't but we were about to.
John: You were about to?
Tim: Yes, we were. But we hadn't yet.

In that dialogue, you see a series of sentences with past perfect, all of which relate to the first.

The past perfect always relates to some other event that has already occurred. But not every sentence needs to repeat the idea. Once the past idea is established, you are good to go. The past event is not always in the same sentence but it has to be somewhere near it.

  • Yes. The order can even be reversed in dialogue. "Doctor, what did you find when you got to the ER?" "The patient had died." Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 0:37

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