We use the verb had and the past participle for the past perfect:

I had finished the work.
She had gone .

The past perfect continuous is formed with had been and the -ing form of the verb:

I had been finishing the work
She had been going.

The past perfect is used in the same way as the present perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present.

We use the past perfect tense:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past:

When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

We normally use the past perfect continuous for this:

She didn’t want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.
Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.

  • for something we had done several times up to a point in the past and continued to do after that point:

He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.
He had written three books and he was working on another one.
I had been watching the programme every week, but I missed the last episode.

We often use a clause with since to show when something started in the past:

They had been staying with us since the previous week.
I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school.
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.

  • when we are reporting our experience and including up to the (then) present:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past but is important at the time of reporting:

I couldn’t get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn’t at home. She had gone shopping.

We use the past perfect to talk about the past in conditions, hypotheses and wishes:

I would have helped him if he had asked.
It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost?
I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month.




I'm trying to understand one of the examples you gave above; "They had been staying with us since the previous week."

I thought the correct way of saying this would be - "They HAVE been staying with us since the previous week." - since this even is still ongoing?

Please clarify! Thank you!

Hello ProEnglish,

If the speaker is speaking in the present then a present perfect form would be appropriate, as you say. However, if the sentence is part of a narrative (using narrative tenses) then the time reference is past and the past perfect would be appropriate. Context here determines which form is appropriate.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I have some questions. Even though I have a CAE certificate, I took the exam last year and was awarded an A grade, I still struggle quite a bit with Past Simple vs. Perfect tenses... If there are keywords mentioned I know perfectly well what to do and which tense to use, but in some cases I keep going back and forth between two options, doubting myself... I would greatly apprecite it if someone could tell me which of the following sentences are the correct ones, and why:
-"My father was angry because he heard I hadn't come home till 3am." vs. "My father was angry because he had heard I hadn't come home till 3am."
-"We already knew he was coming to visit." vs. "We had already known he was coming to visit." (I personally find it very unnatural to use the simple past tense with 'already')
-"After I left a message, he immediately called me back." vs. "After I had left a message, he immediately called me back." (Is the simple past used twice here because of the word 'immediately' which indicates that the two events happen soon after another?"
-"I had been watching that programme every week since it started." vs. "I hade been watching that programme every week since it had started." (past tense)
-"I've been watching that programme ever since it started." vs. "I've been watching that programme ever since it has started." (present tense)
Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.
Best regards,

Hello confusedperfectionist,

It would take me a very long time to explain all of what you ask! I'll explain one of the pairs of sentences you ask about, and let's see if that helps you. If you want to ask us about another pair of sentences another day, then we can help with you with that, but for comprehensive analysis and practice of this, it might be a good idea to look for an English teacher to speak with.

Let's take your first pairs of sentences, about your father being angry. Both are correct and both describe the same event, but suggest a different perspective on it or a different situation. The first sentence could be used in many situations. The second one is a bit more specific because of the past perfect ('had heard'). The past perfect signals that your father heard about your late arrival before the moment in time in which he was angry. This is only logical, of course, but by using the past perfect tense, you make the sequence of him hearing the news and then him getting angry very clear. 

Your first sentence doesn't specify this sequence. Logic dictates that the sequence had to be this way, and so the sentence is intelligible, but the verb forms themselves do not indicate the sequence in the way that the second sentence does.

I hope that makes sense and that it helps you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Learn English!

I have a question which has stumped me. I am an English teacher in Russia who is American, so I have come across some variances in the language...but this one is not simply a matter of a British or American usage. Searching your website only confirms my initial thoughts, but some insight would be most appreciated!

In short, I came across since with present simple. "How long is it since you phoned your grandmother?" Immediately I told the class it SHOULD read "How long has it been since you phoned your grandmother?" I searched and searched for "since" with present simple, and I found one example of an original text with "How long is it since..." which was copyrighted 1846. Is this an archaic usage, or is it still valid in Britain? Thank you for your time.

Hello hospitalityman,

As a Brit myself I can tell you that this is quite common. A search for 'How long is it since' on an English language corpus such as this one will give you some examples, though this is primarily a form used in spoken English and so is under-represented in written texts.

I also did a search using a corpus of American English and found some examples there. The present perfect was used in most cases ('How long is it since you've...') but there were some examples with the past simple, including 'How long is it since the pain started?' and 'How long is it since your man passed away?'

One example I came across is probably familiar to you:

How long is it since Saruman bought you?


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team,

I've got these two sentences which I am not sure which tense to use :
1. Jack was born in 1900. He was influenced by his father who SPENT (or "had spent) years working in England.
SInce this sentence is clearly about the past (story happened in 1900) so past tense " spent" makes sense to me. But if we look at the whole sentence, I also think past perfect "had spent " also makes sense as the act of spend had happended before the act of influence.

2. Mary moved into her house in 1985 and John had lived (or has lived) next door since he came to the area in 1980

Can I use either tense ? If past perfect is used, does it emphasis the fact the John had lived there before mary moved in ? And if present perfect is used, does it emphasis that he still lives there now ?

thank you

Thank you for your clarification.

Hello Widescreen,

It is often the case that more than one form is possible in a given sentence, particularly with regard to aspect (perfective and continuous). In your first example both the past simple and the past perfect are possible. Which is desired depends upon the context (which we do not have) and the speaker's intention (which we do not know). In general, the past perfect shows some relationship between a past even and an earlier event; the past simple shows simply two completed events in the past.

The same is true of the second example. The past pefect may be appropriate if the action being described (living in the house) was related in some way (influenced in some way) another event, either within the sentence or in the broader context. The same is true of the present perfect, but it would need to relate to the present, from the speaker's perspective. Again, this context is not known to us.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir. Could you please tell me if the following sentence is grammatically correct? It has to be with reported speech:

"Which computer did you like best?" My mother asked my father.
My mother asked my father which computer he had liked best.

I wrote this last one (the reported sentence), but I'm not sure if it is correct, so I'll appreciate your help.
Thanks in advance.