When they first meet the past perfect, many learners get the impression that they must use it when talking about a past situation that happened before a later past situation. However, when they try to do this, they find that someone tells them their sentences are incorrect and\/or unnatural. Here are five tips to help you use the past perfect correctly and naturally. 1. Stop worrying. We use the past perfect rather less often than some course books and student grammars seem to suggest. Indeed, some native speakers rarely need to use it at all. Fewer than seven verb phrases in a thousand involve a past perfect construction! Also, if you don\u2019t use a past perfect form when a native speaker would, you can usually be understood. So, if you are just learning English to be able to communicate reasonably effectively, don\u2019t worry too much about the past perfect. If you need to master the past perfect to get through school or college examinations, or because you take pride in making your English as good as you can, read on. 2. Do not use the past perfect when the sequence of past events is clear. It may seem strange to read about when not to use the past perfect before we deal with when we should use it, but, this is an important point. When the sequence of events is clear in coordinate clauses, we use past (not past perfect) tenses, as in this example: 2.1. Sanjay got dressed, had his breakfast, and walked to the station. In this series of events, when one thing happens after another, the past perfect is not only unnatural - it is wrong. Some subordinate clauses are introduced by a subordinator that makes the sequence of events clear; examples include before, after, as soon as. When this is the case, we can, but don\u2019t have to, use past perfect forms for the earlier event(s). Both the and the versions are possible in the following sentences: 2.2a. After she had put the children to bed, Jasmine settled down to watch her favourite soap. 2.2b. After she put the children to bed, Jasmine settled down to watch her favourite soap. 2.3a. They had taken the vote before we arrived. 2.3b. They took the vote before we arrived. Which is better? Neither. When the sequence of events is clear, you have free choice. Is there a difference in meaning? Yes, but it\u2019s not significant. The past perfect in the sentences places a little more emphasis on the \u2018before-ness\u2019 and\/or the completion of the earlier event, while the past simple in both clauses in the sentences merely notes the sequence of events. However, let me repeat: neither is \u2018better\u2019; both are correct and natural. 3. Do use the past perfect when the sequence of past events is not clear. If there is no other indication that a past event happened before another past event, then the past perfect is necessary to make the order of events clear. 3.1. Sanjay stopped halfway to the station. He had forgotten his briefcase. In the second sentence in , the use of the past simple would be incorrect. It would suggest that the forgetting happened after the stopping. The past perfect makes it clear that the forgetting was before the stopping. As we have seen, subordinators such as before and after make the sequence of events clear. Other subordinators, such as when, where, and because do not. The choice of past or past perfect now becomes important, as we see in these examples: 3.2a. Sally made a cup of tea when I arrived. 3.2b. Sally had made a cup of tea when I arrived. In , the use of the past simple in both clauses suggests that the tea-making happened after I arrived. The past perfect in the subordinate clause in makes it clear that the tea-making happened before I arrived. 4. Do backshift past to past perfect in reported speech. \u2018Backshifting\u2019 is changing a present to a past tense, and a past or present perfect to a past perfect in reported speech, when the reporting verb (said, told, asked, etc) is in the past tense, as in these examples: 4.1a. John said \u201cI live in Durham\u201d. 4.1b. John said (that) he lived in Durham. 4.2a. Margaret said \u201cI worked in China from 2010 to 2012. 4.2b. Margaret said (that) she had worked in China from 2010 to 2012. 4.3a. Robin asked me \u201cHave you ever seen a ghost?\u201d 4.3b. Robin asked me if I had ever seen a ghost. There are times when backshifting is not essential but, if you change a past or present perfect to a past perfect form in reported speech, when the reporting verb (said, told, asked, etc) is in the past tense, you will always produce a correct and natural sentence. Native speakers may not always backshift, but don\u2019t worry about that. 5. Use the past perfect for unreal past-time situations. When we are talking about a hypothetical situation in the past, i.e. one that did not actually occur, we use the past perfect, a tense form that can make a situation remote both in time and in reality: 5.1. I wish I had gone to university. 5.2. If Luke had not gone to Turkey, he wouldn\u2019t have met Claire. In , the speaker did not go to university; in , Luke did go to Turkey (and he did meet Claire). Using a simple past tense there would convey a different message. We haven\u2019t looked every possible use of the past perfect here, but we have looked at all the uses and non-uses that most people will meet in normal life. If you remember the five tips given here, you will almost always use the past perfect correctly when it should be used, and rarely use it when it should not be used.