Wednesday's Word


The pluperfect (or plusquamperfect) is a type of verb form, generally treated as one of the tenses in certain languages, used to refer to an action at a time earlier than a time in the past already referred to. Examples in English are: "we had arrived"; "they had written".

The word derives from the Latin plus quam perfectum, "more than perfect". The word "perfect" in this sense means "completed"; it contrasts with the "imperfect", which denotes uncompleted actions or states.

In English grammar, the equivalent of the pluperfect (a form such as "had written") is now often called the past perfect, since it combines past tense with perfect aspect. (The same term is sometimes used in relation to the grammar of other languages.)

English also has a past perfect progressive (or past perfect continuous) form: "had been writing". Examples of the English pluperfect (past perfect) are found in the following sentence (from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning):

  • A man who for years had thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering had no limits, and that he could suffer still more, and more intensely.

Here, "had thought" and "had reached" are examples of the pluperfect. They refer to an event (a man thinking he has reached the limit of his capacity to suffer), which takes place before another event (the man finding that his capacity to suffer has no limit), that is itself a past event, referred to using the past tense (found). The pluperfect is needed to make it clear that the first event (the thinking and the supposed reaching) is placed even earlier in the past. 


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