In all its uses the past perfect denotes actions the beginning of which (always) and the end (usually) precede a certain moment of time in the past. The prepast period of time to which the actions in the past perfect refer is unlimited, that is, they may take place either immediately before some moment in the past or in the very remote past.
This tense is used with both actional and statal verbs. Its sphere of application is mainly that of narratives, though it is also used in conversation.
The past perfect is used:
1. To denote an action of which both the beginning and the end precede some moment of time in the past. This moment can be specified by an adverbial of time, or by another action, or else by the situation.
What should be borne in mind is that the use of the past perfect form is in itself a sufficient indication of the precedence of the denoted action to some moment in the past which therefore need not be specified.
He had finished his work by then.
I knew him a little: we had met in Rome a year before.
She felt wretched. She had not slept for two nights.
I opened the window. The rain had stopped, but the sharp east wind was still blowing.
After everybody had left, she rushed to her room and began packing hurriedly.
2. To denote an action in progress which began before a certain moment of time in the past and went on up to that moment and sometimes into it. In such cases either the starting point of the action is specified (by means of the adverb since, a prepositional phrase with since or an adverbial clause introduced by the conjunction since), or the period during which the action was in progress (by various adverbials):
a) with statal verbs, which do not normally allow of continuous forms:
He had been away for some months before his first letter came.
They had thought it over and over again since that dinner.
I could not believe the rumour. I had known him for a good many years.
b) with some actional durative verbs (in the similar way as with the past perfect continuous).
When we first met she had lived in the country for two years and was quite happy.
And thus he had sat in his chair till the clock in the hall chimed midnight.
Since her mother's death she had slept in the comer room.
In this case the past perfect continuous can also be used, though with a slight difference of meaning: while the past perfect lays the stress on the mere fact that the action took place, the past perfect continuous accentuates the duration of the action.
3. To denote a succession of past actions belonging to the time preceding the narrative as a whole, thus describing a succession of events in the prepast time.
I gave a slight shiver. In front of me was a neat square of grass and a path and the low gate. Someone had opened the gate, had walked very correctly and quietly up to the house, and had pushed a letter through the letter-box.
§ 39. The ways of rendering the past perfect in Russian are varied, owing to its aspective meaning of the verb or the context. It can be translated by Russian verbs in the past tense of both perfective and imperfective aspects with all possible shades of their meaning. These are mostly supported by lexical means:
| I had admitted everything before.
|| Я все это признал еще раньше.
(A perfective (completed) action.)
| Не had banged his fist on the table two or three times before they turned to him.
|| Он стукнул кулаком по столу два или три раза, прежде чем они обернулись.
(A perfective, iterative action.)
| Of late years I had sometimes found him at parties.
|| В последние годы я иногда встречал его на вечерах.
(An imperfective, iterative action.)
| He had looked scared during the prolonged examination.
|| Во время этого затянувшегося экзамена он казался совсем испуганным.
(An imperfective, durative action.)
The past perfect continuous
§ 40. Formation. The past perfect continuous is formed analytically by means of the auxiliary to be in the past perfect (had been) and participle 1 of the notional verb.
In the interrogative the first auxiliary (had) comes before the subject, and the second auxiliary (been) and participle I follow the subject.
In the negative the corresponding negative forms of the first auxiliary (had) are used, the second auxiliary (been) and participle I follow the negation.
In the negative-interrogative the corresponding negative-interrogative forms of the first auxiliary are used first, the second auxiliary and participle I follow the subject.