everyone. My understanding of past participles--and it's based on my own observations, not on my reading this rule--is that you use "had [verb]" when speaking about something that, in the past, happened in the past. Like, in the past TWICE. Example, if today is Wednesday, and yesterday (Tuesday) I turned on the TV at 9 because I heard on Monday that there would be a cool show on, I would say, "I turned on the TV tonight because I had heard there would be a cool show on." In the past I turned on the TV because, relative to when I turned on the TV, it was in the past that I heard about a cool show.

And then yesterday, I read on another site that you use the past participle when describing "something that happened in the past, but that is linked to another time."

So that seemed to somewhat confirm my own ideas of past participles, but is there a clearer way to think of it?

I have a situation at work right now that I'm confused about. Last week, my boss Phil told me to email Alex an article I had written because he, Phil, wanted Alex to fact-check it. Well, today, I still haven't heard from Alex, so I went to go write him. I said, "Hi, Alex, did you get my email last Friday? Phil had said he wanted you to fact-check it." But is "had said" correct? Could I just have said "Phil said"? In the past (last Friday) is when Phil told me to email Alex, and it was only ten minutes later that I actually did email Alex. So in the past (last Friday), after I sent the email to Alex, it was true that in the past Phil wanted me to email Alex. So is "Phil had said" correct?

Often either "had [verb]" or "[verb]" will sound better than the other, but in this case they both sound good to me.

I'm just trying to figure out a clear-cut explanation as to when to use "had [verb]," something that I can apply to future deliberations on the matter when I write anything.


1 Answer 1


Your prolix question asks about when to use the past perfect tense. That tense happens to use a past participle, but there are other uses for the past participle too.

Aside from that, whether you use the perfect tense depends on whether what you are saying needs to be fixed in the past relative to another past event that is part of the meaning of what you are saying. In your example, you could just use "Phil said...".

To require past perfect, you need some past event to which another event is anterior. For example, "I emailed Alex last month, because Phil had told me he might be able to help me."

Here is a link to a discussion of the past perfect tense: Grammarly Past Perfect Tense

  • Thanks. I see lots of questions on here that aren't super clear and require commenters to ask for more information. I was "prolix" to preempt all that. Better to give to much info and receive an answer than to provide not enough and receive no answer. I'm sorry if you were...offended?...at my wordiness. Mar 11, 2020 at 17:47
  • I wasn't offended, it just took me some time to get through it. I hope the answer was useful to you. Mar 11, 2020 at 17:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .