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:


Hi LearnEnglish Team,
Can we use "had been + past participle" for the past perfect:
example : When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.

Hello there Mohammed!
That is actually had been + -ed adjective. You can read about - ed adjectives here. Here, had been is the past perfect of is.
Hope that helps,
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you British council .. it is really useful

here's an extract from a grammar book:
We visited Switzerland four times during the 1970s.
I had stayed in the hotel twice in the 1980s.
(The sentences are from different Units)
What's the difference?
Why is it possible to use the past perfect in the second sentence?

Hello Honscho!

Without seeing the context of the sentences, it's hard to say. However, the past perfect sentence shows that something more important (the main time of the story) happened after the hotel visits:

I had visited the hotel twice in the 1980s, but I couldn't find it again when I went back there in 1992.
Have a look at our past perfect pages, or try searching for the past perfect in the search box on the right of the page for more examples.

Hope that helps!
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team


If you want to migrate to the other countries nor you would like to live or work  you must need to know if you are qualified for the immigrant visa's or appropriate job that suits you best. Whereas the areas of difficulties going to live in another place is very hard especially if you don't know what exactly your main reason to live in a foreign territory. You want to live there because you would like  to work ? Nor you want to go there as a tourist visitor? Hope that this will give you a hint's or guiding you what do you want to achieve your life in a near future. Thank you very much English team to provide some space here now I have time to express myself to the other nationalities as well. More power to all of you.

Hi LearnEnglish Team,
Can we use "had been + past participle" for the past perfect: 
example : When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.

I' d like to ask something. I read in a grammar book that verbs such as understand and know are not common in past perfect tense, unless they are followed by "for". Ex. They were good friends, they had known each other for years BUT As soon as I understood the joke, I started laughing. My questions: does this stand? and can' t the verbs be followed by "since", so the first example would be: they had known each other since kindergarten?
Thank you.

Dear British Council, 
I don't understand one of the theories of Past Perfect. It is "When we are reporting our experience and including to the present, we use Past Perfect". 
I was wondering that if an event occurred in the past and continued to the present. Why we don't use Present Perfect instead of Past Perfect? 

it's really made me confused too. I don't know which rules applied for this.