Level: intermediate

The past perfect is made from the verb had and the past participle of a verb:

I had finished the work.
She had gone.

The past perfect continuous is made from had been and the -ing form of a verb:

had been working there for a year.
They had been painting the bedroom.

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:

  • 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.

For this use, we often use the past perfect continuous:

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 that happened several times before a point in the past and continued 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.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

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 and is important at a later time in the past

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

We often use expressions with for and since with the past perfect:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there for ten years
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.
 

We do not normally use the past perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the past perfect simple instead:

Up until that moment, I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in astrology.

Past perfect

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Past perfect and past simple

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Past perfect and hypotheses

We can also use the past perfect to make hypotheses about the past (when we imagine something). See these pages:

Comments

Hello Sir
Please let me know the following sentences are right or wrong because I have doubts.
While my mother was cooking, the power went off.
While my mother has been cooking, the power went off. ( I think this is wrong-present perfect cont.) but while my mother had been cooking, the power went off.
Thank you.
Regards
Lal

Hello Lal,

The first sentence is correct. The second, as you say, is not. This is because the verb 'went' describes an action in a finished time frame, whereas 'has been cooking' describes unfinished time.

You could say 'While my mother has been cooking, the phone has rung three times'. This would all refer to unfinished time, so it would mean that she was still cooking and the phone might ring again.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
One more question under the same (While my mother was cooking, the power went off.)
Can I say ?: While my mother had been cooking, the power went off.
Thank you.
Regards
Lal

Hi Lal,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct. 'had been cooking' makes reference to some other past event that happened after the cooking, but no other such event is mentioned -- 'went off' describes an action that happened during the cooking, not after it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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.

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