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

If past perfect indicates the work completed action in the past then what about simple present. ?

For example: 1) I had gone to office. ( in past perfect )
2) I went to office ( in past simple)

As per the understanding both looks same.

Hello nareshk,

For completed actions in the past we use the past simple. In your examples, 'went' is correct.

 

We use the past perfect only when there is another point of reference in the past and we want to relate the action to this point of reference. We would not use the past perfect without this. Thus, your first example would not be correct as it stands; it would need some other time reference. For example, you might say:

I had gone to the office before she woke up. ['before she woke up' is the second time reference - another time in the past; the first action is before this and references it]

 

I had gone to the office early that morning. [part of a narrative in which all actions are in the past; the 'had gone' takes place in this past time frame before some subsequent event later in the past]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
It is alright to say: I have had lunch. I have just had lunch.
Could I use this in past perfect? eg. I had had lunch. I had just had lunch.
or should I use another phrase? eg I was hungry.
THANK YOU.

Hello Andrew international,
Those are all correct.
All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Could i have used " they were staying with us since last week" or when i use " since" it already applies to the perfect tenses??

Different subject : i think you're a teacher ( sorry , im new) you said somewhere that when we use " i would have ... ex liked" means that is not true. So if i want to say "why didnt you show me your work? i would have liked" is it wrong or does it mean im being false? Or was i nosy and misunderstood it all?

Thanks in advance

Hello Gabi rose,

'Since' carries with it a meaning of 'to the present time' and so we do not use it with verb forms showing finished time, like past forms. As you suggest, you need to use a perfect form here: They have been staying with us since...

I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand your second question. It's perfectly fine to ask something like:

Why didn't you show me your work? I would have liked to see it.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
I tend to use one 'had' to apply to multiple verbs that I mean to be in the past perfect tense. Eg 'No one knew whether Percy had jumped or been pushed' (as opposed to 'had been pushed'); 'The bear had eaten the tangerine, burped and departed'. Is this acceptable? Might readers find it jarring and 'amateurish'?
Pete.

Hello Hptd01,

In general, yes it's fine to omit auxiliary verbs when the context makes the meaning clear. Native speakers do this very often and so actually it's great that you also do this. The sentence about the bear is also fine, but I'm afraid it's difficult to generalise beyond that. I might suggest using the word 'then', e.g. '... had eaten the tangerine, then burped and left' just because it's typical in a sequence of actions, but it's certainly not necessary.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teachers,

If i wanted to simply express the fact that an action has taken place in the past, i could use the simple past tense, as in "i lost my wallet". However, could i also mean the same thing by saying "i had lost my wallet"? I understand that one of the uses of the past perfect simple is to state that an action had occurred before another past action/time in the past, as in "i didn't handy any money because i had lost my wallet", but is it grammatical to state simply "i had lost my wallet." without any accompanying statement such as "i didn't have any money", to mean simply that an action occurred in the past?

Thank!

Regards,
tim

Hello Tim,

The past perfect needs a second time reference - an earlier act in the past. That could be in the sentence or it could be in another part of a text, or it could be obvious from the context and known to both speakers. However, we do not use the past perfect without some known and shared second time reference.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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