Pluperfect tense

Pluperfect tense

The pluperfect tense (from Latin plus quam perfectum more than perfect), also called past perfect in English, is a perfective tense that exists in most Indo-European languages, used to refer to an event that has completed before another past action.

In the sentence "The blind man, who knew that he had risen, motioned him to sit down again" (from Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty), "he had risen" is an example of the pluperfect tense. It refers to an event (someone rises from his seat), which takes place before another event (the blind man notices the fact that the other has risen). Because that second event (the blind man's taking notice) is itself a past event and the past tense is used to refer to it ("the blind man knew"), the pluperfect is needed to make it clear that the first event (someone rises) has taken place even earlier in the past.

Types of pluperfect

There are generally two types of pluperfect, corresponding to the two types of perfect:

  • Pluperfect of state, where the consequence of some event is associated with that event during a narration in the past tense: "He saw that the door had opened, and children were running through it." is nearly the same as "...He saw that the door was open, and children...” A pluperfect of state is, in association to the fact of the action, midway between the past tense (the door opened yesterday) and the predicate adjective that is the past participle (the door was open since yesterday).
  • Pluperfect of action, where a series of pluperfect sentences carry a narration. This pluperfect is allied more closely to the usual preterite tense in English. It serves only to place a narration in the "more distant past," without determining its particular time or duration, as follows: "He had risen early that morning and had drunk coffee earlier than usual."

Examples from various languages

In the English language, the pluperfect tense is often called the past perfect. It is formed by combining the auxiliary verb had with the past participle (e.g. "he had risen" in the above quote from Dickens). Other languages like Latin have special verb forms for the pluperfect tense and do not need to use auxiliary verbs. Thus, the Latin equivalent of 'he had seen' is viderat. However, most modern European languages combine auxiliary verbs and past participles:

In German, the pluperfect (Plusquamperfekt or Vorvergangenheit, lit. pre-past) is used in much the same manner, normally in a nachdem sentence. The Plusquamperfekt is formed with the Partizip Perfekt (Partizip II) of the full lexical verb, plus the auxiliary verb haben or sein in its preterite form, depending on the full lexical verb in question. For example: Nachdem ich aufgestanden war, ging ich ins Badezimmer After I had got up, I went into the bathroom.

In Dutch, the pluperfect (Voltooid verleden tijd) is formed similarly as in German: the voltooid deelwoord is combined with an auxiliary declination of hebben or zijn, depending on the full lexical verb: Voordat ik er erg in had, was het al twaalf uur geworden. - Before I noticed, it had become noon already. In addition, pluperfect is sometimes used instead of present perfect: Dat had ik al gezien (voordat jij het zag) - lit.: I had seen that (before you did). The parenthesized part is implied and, therefore, can be omitted.

In French, the pluperfect (plus-qu- parfait) is formed from the imperfect tense of the appropriate auxiliary verb (être or avoir) plus the past participle. For example, Jean avait déjà éteint l'incendie quand les pompiers sont arrivés John had already put the fire out when the fire brigade arrived.

In Italian, the pluperfect (trapassato prossimo) is formed correspondingly to French by using the imperfect tense of the appropriate auxiliary verb (essere or avere) plus the past participle. For example, Ero affamato perché non avevo mangiato I was hungry because I had not eaten.

In Spanish, the pluperfect (pluscuamperfecto, or antecopretérito) is (similarly) formed from the imperfect tense of the auxiliary verb haber plus the past participle. For example, Había comido cuando mi madre vino I had eaten when my mother came.

In Portuguese, there is a synthetic pluperfect (mais-que-perfeito). For example, Quando cheguei soube que meu amigo morrera 'When I came I learned that my friend had died'. Its use has become mostly literary, however, and in spoken Portuguese, the pluperfect is usually formed using the auxiliary verb ter plus the past participle. For example, Quando cheguei soube que meu amigo tinha morrido. A more formal way of expressing the pluperfect uses the verb "haver". For example: ''Quando cheguei soube que meu amigo havia morrido.

In Judeo-Spanish, the Latin pluperfect forms with little alteration have been preserved (e.g. final /m/ and /t/ are dropped) to express this tense (pluskuamperfekto), which is identical in form to the imperfect subjunctive. It has a similar form to the Portuguese, thus the Portuguese example above in Jidyo is, Kuando yegí suve ke mi haver morera 'When I came I knew that my friend had died'. It remains the main spoken form, though in some varieties, similarly to Spanish or Portuguese, the pluperfect is formed using the auxiliary verbs tener or aver plus the past participle. For example, Kuando yegí suve ke mi haver tuve morido or Kuando yegí suve ke mi haver avía morido.

In Romanian, the pluperfect (mai mult ca perfectul) is expressed without any auxiliary words, using a particular form of the verb. For example, in Când l-am întrebat, el văzuse deja filmul 'When I asked him, he had already seen the movie'. The verb văzuse is in the pluperfect form of a vedea 'to see'. Technically, this form is obtained from the singular third person form of the simple perfect tense by adding specific terminations for each person and number.

In Galician, the pluperfect (Pretérito pluscuamperfecto) is a simple tense formed by inflecting the verb: fuxiras you (sg.) had fled.

Unlike Russian, which today has only remnants of pluperfect, the Ukrainian language still preserves a distinct pluperfect tense (давньоминулий час - davn'omynulyj čas) that is formed by preceding the verb with buv or bula (literally, 'was'). It was and still is used in daily speech, especially in rural areas. Being mostly unused in literature during Soviet times, it is now regaining popularity. Here is an example of usage: Ja vže buv pіšov, až raptom zhadav... I almost had gone already when I recalled...

In Polish, it is constructed with an auxiliary verb być 'to be' in a past tense, third person only. It is now old fashioned, used only in the formal register. Example: Powinieneś był to zrobić You should have done it.

In Serbo-Croatian, the pluperfect tense ("pluskvamperfekt") is constructed with the past tense ("perfekt") of the verb to be¨("biti") plus the adjective form of the main verb. For example: "Ja sam bio učio", which means, "I had been studying".

In Finnish, the pluperfect (pluskvamperfekti) is constructed with an auxiliary verb olla 'to be', which is in the past tense. The primary verbs get the past participle endings -nyt/-nut in singular, -neet in plural forms (the 'n' assimilates with certain consonants) and -ttu/-tty/-tu/-ty in passive forms. Still, there are some irregularities, for example me olimme olleet we had been, the primary verb is irregular.

In Latin, the pluperfect (plus quam perfectum) is formed without an auxiliary verb in the active voice and with an auxiliary verb plus the perfect passive participle in the passive voice. For example, in the indicative mood, pecuniam mercatori dederat (He had given money to the merchant), and Pecunia mercatori datus erat (Money had been given to the merchant). The subjunctive mood is formed similarly (Dedisset and Datus sit, respectively). Often, an ablative absolute phrase, using a noun and perfect participle in the ablative case, may be used where a pluperfect clause would be used in English. (Pecunia mercatori data, cessit emptor, When money had been given to the merchant, the buyer left.)

 English German Latin Romanian Portuguese Spanish Italian French ٍGreek (Modern) Bulgarian
I had heard ich hatte gehört audiveram auzisem ouvira / tinha ouvido / havia ouvido había oído avevo sentito j'avais entendu είχα ακούσει бях чул
you had heard du hattest gehört audiverās auziseşi ouviras / tinhas ouvido / havias ouvido habías oído avevi sentito tu avais entendu είχες ακούσει бе(ше) чул
he/she had heard er/sie hatte gehört audiverat auzise ouvira / tinha ouvido / havia ouvido había oído aveva sentito il/elle avait entendu είχε ακούσει бе(ше) чул
we had heard wir hatten gehört audiverāmus auziserăm ouvíramos / tínhamos ouvido / havíamos ouvido habíamos oído avevamo sentito nous avions entendu είχαμε ακούσει бяхме чули
you had heard ihr hattet gehört audiverātis auziserăţi ouvíreis / tínheis ouvido / havíeis ouvido habíais oído avevate sentito vous aviez entendu είχατε ακούσει бяхте чули
they had heard sie hatten gehört audiverant auziseră ouviram / tinham ouvido / haviam ouvido habían oído avevano sentito ils avaient entendu είχαν ακούσει бяха чули

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