Past Tense 3: Past Perfect (das Plusquamperfekt)
Also known as the Pluperfect in English or Plusquamperfekt in German, this tense combines the simple past form of the helping verbs “sein” and “haben” with a past participle of the main verb. Typically, this tense is used to indicate something that occurred prior to something in the Imperfect or Present Perfect tenses, but that can also be implied. In German, there are a few commonly used subordinating conjunctions that clue the learner into the need for the past perfect.
Nachdem er gegangen war, machte Dietrich seine Hausaufgaben. / After he had gone, Dietrich did his homework.
Bevor sie ins Kino ging, hatte sie Nudeln zu Abend gegessen. / Before she went to the movies, she had eaten noodles for dinner.
In the above examples, the earlier action is couched in the past perfect form (gegangen war, hatte gegessen), and “nachdem” (after) and “bevor” (before) helped sequence the actions. Further, the past perfect is more typically seen in written German, and is used less frequently in conversational German. In spoken German, there is a tendency to just use the present perfect instead of the past perfect in combination with temporal markers such as “bevor,” “vorher,” and “nachdem.”