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.

Exercise

Comments

Hello Sir
Thanks a lot for your answers regarding perfect tenses.
Please help me regarding this,too..
They have been staying with us since previous month.
They had been staying with us since previous month.
Which one is correct? Both or one then which one.
Thank you.
Regards
Lal

Hi Lal,

I'm afraid neither is correct, but both need only a minor change to make them correct. The second one would be correct if the word 'the' were inserted before 'previous' ('the previous month'). The first one would be correct if you changed 'previous' to 'last'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Could I say: He had written three books and he is working on another one.
Thanks.

Hi rsduraosa,

I can't think of a context when this would be correct. The past perfect makes reference to a past time before the action of the verb, but there is no reference to another past time in this sentence -- there is a reference to the present.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks,
All the best,
rsduraosa.

Hi. Dear BC team. I want to ask about the past perfect after "before". I have read about it in textbooks, but they usually say that that's how it is used without bothering to explain why. It is a long post, but I have been thinking about it for a long time. However, I still cannot see any logic in it. So probably, I am not asking why it is used that way, but only if sentences "b" and "c" are also possible.

And if they are, do they carry the same meaning, or different meaning? (Note: a sentences are taken from various grammar books.)

However, if you can even shed light in terms of logic on this use of past perfect, indulge me, please.

A)

1a: He addressed her before I had introduced him to her.

b: He had addressed her before I introduced him to her.

c: He addressed her before I introduced him to her.

2a: We reached the stadium before the match had started.

b: We had reached the stadium before the match started.

c: We reached the stadium before the match started.

3a: He went out before I had finished my sentence.

b: He had gone out before I finished my sentence.

c: He went out before I finished my sentence.

4a: I left university before I had finished the course I was doing.

b: I had left uinversity before I finished the course I was doing.

c: I left university before I finished the course I was doing.

5a: She sacked him before he had a chance to explain his behaviour.

b: She had sacked him before he had a chance to explain his behaviour.

c: She sacked him before he had a chance to explain his behaviour.

(In one grammar book sentences 1 and 2 were split into two. He had addressed her. I had not introduced him to her before. We reached the stadium. The match had not started. Which is fine. I understand that. But in my view, it still doesn't justify the use of past perfect after "before" when I put the two sentences together. I really can't see any logic in it whatsoever Emotion: smile In my language we only have two tenses, the past, present and future. On top of that we do not have simple and continuous forms. So you can probably imagine, how confusing the English tense system can be, and how difficult it can be to understand where the past perfect is obligatory and where it is optional. Basically, I can only see it obligatory in third conditional sentences, and with the preposition when in time clauses to avoid confusion. For example,When she arrived we had dinner. When she arrived we had had dinner.)

B)

This curiosity seems to appear also with the preposition "until". Again, "a" sentences are taken from a grammar book. Are "b" and "c" sentences also possible, and if yes, do they have the same or different meaning?

6a: The teacher waited until all had finished.

b: The teacher had waited until all finished.

c: The teacher waited until all finished.

7a: I didn't know what he was like until I had met him.

b: I hadn't known what he was like until I met him.

c: I didn't know what he was like until I met him.

Thank you very much for your comments. I am trying to write it down in a dumbed down form so it easy to use for as many students as possible.

Hello radovan1972,

It seems to me that you've understood the use of the past perfect quite well, though I can see how its redundancy in some situations is frustrating. Whether or not the past perfect is required really depends on how sentences are constructed. For example, if the word 'before' isn't used, then the past perfect can be used to indicate that one actions happens before another. For example, in 'When I got to the station, the train had already left', the past perfect is clearly necessary unless we change the sentence to something like 'The train left before I got to the station'. In third conditionals, as you point out, it is also necessary.

Using the past perfect with the words 'before' and 'until' does indeed seem redundant and I don't see any difference in meaning between the three versions of each sentence that you ask about. None of them sound unnatural to me, either, which suggests that we do routinely use the past perfect in this way. It might help to think of the past perfect as being a way of emphasising things (rather than as necessary) in these cases.

I hope this helps you make sense of things.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk.
You comment is very helpful. I am glad to hear that there is no difference in those three versions with "before" and "until". As that has been bothering me for ages and I haven't been able to get a good answer out of anyone :) I'll sleep much calmer now.
Radovan

Thank you, Peter!

Hi there!
In the sentence - "she didn't want to move" - is this this also a long example of the past continuous?

Many thanks,

Kieran

Pages