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.




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.

Hello Daniel H,

Yes, that is correct and is probably the best answer in general.

Just so you know, it's also possible to write it as '... which computer he liked best', though the meaning is a bit different. If you use the past perfect form, it views your father's evaluation of the computers at that past moment in time, i.e at the time he was in the computer store, he liked one the most.

If you use 'liked' instead of 'had liked', the time reference is not as specific. This could, for example, indicate that your father still likes one computer over the others now, some time after he visited the computer store.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Can I use "I am here since morning, instead of I have been here since morning"?

Hello Bishad,

No, I'm afraid not. The present perfect is needed here and the present simple ('am') would not be correct.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there,

One of the above examples says 'Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours'

Would it be correct if say 'Everything was wet. It was raining for hours'

Thank you for your help.

Kind Regards,