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


Past perfect and past simple


Past perfect and hypotheses

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


Hello Amal.mahmoud,

I've answered this question on this page for you.  Sometimes it takes us a little while to answer all the questions - we are a small team and there are many questions every day! However, we do answer the questions we receive so please be patient and ask each question once only, and we will answer as quickly as we can.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

not bad thanks

Score: 100.00%
Points scored 36 out of 36

Help, what are the rules when using past perfect in conjunction with "because"?
He attacked me because I had slept with his wife.
We went to the cinema because we wanted to watch that movie.
In the second example I have used past simple instead of past perfect. Could you please tell me if both sentences are correct and if so, why is past perfect valid for the first but not applicable for the second.

Hello Stoobie,
Both sentences are correct, but in the first example you could use either the past perfect or the past simple in the second half, and both would be fine.  Which you choose is dependent what you choose to emphasise.  If you want to emphasise the connection between the two actions (one is the result of the other) then the past perfect is more likely - as it is in this particular context.
In the second example the time relationship is different. Presumably you still wanted to watch the film when you got to the cinema, meaning there is not a clear sequential relationship between the actions.  It can help to imagine a present / present perfect equivalent:
I'm going to the cinema because I want to see the film. (correct)
I'm going to the cinema because I have wanted to see the film. (incorrect)
I hope that clarifies it for you.  It is a difficult area.
For more information on the perfective aspect look here (click).
For specific information on the past perfect look here (click).
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

my score is100 %. point scored 36 out of 36.

What is the difference between these two?
In the few seconds after she had downed the liquid, something had grabbed our new teacher and spirited her away from us.
In the few seconds after she had downed the liquid, something grabbed our new teacher and spirited her away from us.
Why is past perfect used twice in the top sentence when the meaning seems clearer in the sentence below?

Hello khmania777!
Both sentences are grammatically correct, although which is best might dpeend on the sentence that comes after it. In British English, we use the past perfect a little more often than in American English, but in these sentences, the difference is not important, and the meaning is clear in both.
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there.
I was wondering if there's any chance for me to find someone to practice English with via Skype, or in some other way. I don't want to sound like spam or something like that. I am 24 year old student of tourism from Serbia. I know some English but I'm desperate to get some experience in speaking, since I don't have much opportunities to speak in foreign language with anyone I know. I typed "learn English" in Twitter search box and this web site came up. So looking forward to your answer. If this message is against the rules of this web site, feel free to delete it and let me know.
Best wishes, Dragan Zoric Zorke.

Hello Dragan Zorkic Zorke!
Thanks for taking the time to introduce yourself, and welcome to LearnEnglish. I'm afraid, though, that our house rules do ask you not to share Skype information - this is to protect all our users.

Practising your English with no-one around can be tricky, but here are a few suggestions.

  • Use the comments section here to practice grammar and vocabulary. It's writing, but still useful.
  • Try to record yourself. Choose some of the discussion questions and go to a site like www.vocaroo.com, record your answers,  and playback your recording – what mistakes did you make? What do you like about your answer?
  • Keep listening to our recordings. One of the best ways to improve speaking... is listening!

Finally, remember you don't have to have a native speaker to talk to. Maybe a friend or colleague wants to talk English – ask around, and find someone who wants to practice.
Good luck, and keep working on it!
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team