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:


My previous comment was sent by accident. Sorry! Below is my second question.

In the following sentences, there is only one event happened in a past time. Why is past perfect used instead of past simple?

He had gone to bed by ten o'clock last night.
By the end of last month, they had had little money to spend.

Thank you!

Hello Viva789,

A second time reference (often a second event) is always required for perfect tenses. However, it does not always occur in the same sentence. It could be in another sentence or it could be implied by what we know about the world. Sentences need to be seen in context, not in isolation.

Please note that while we are happy to comment on our own examples (for which we take responsibility), we do not comment on examples from other sources (books, websites and so on). This is because we cannot vouch for their accuracy or suitability, and do not know their context, source, rhetorical purpose and so on. As an example, your second sentence here looks highly unlikely to be correct, but as a decontextualised example from an unknown source it is not possible for us to be sure.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Scenario A. Both past simple and past perfect are correct.
They found that many trees fell during the typhoon last week.
They found that many trees had fallen during the typhoon last week.

Scenario B. Only past perfect is correct.
The police told us that the lost car had been found.

These two scenarios look the same to me. I wonder why in scenario B, only past perfect is correct. And in scenario A, is there any subtle difference between past simple and past perfect?

Also, I've got another question. Why is past perfect used in the following sentence, instead

Hello Vivi789,

I wouldn't be quite so categorical about whether the past perfect is required, possible or impossible. It is really a question of context and the interrelation of the different events, but there is usually a choice available, even if one for or another is more likely.

Perfect forms show a connection between the event being described and another later event. A perfect form is used when we are looking back on that event: from the present in the case of present perfect forms and from the past in the case of past perfect forms. The connection, however, is subjective. If the speaker thinks that the earlier event influenced the later event then a perfect form is used. This can be because it causes the second event, for example, or changes our understanding of it. The past simple is used when there is no relationship other than sequence between the two events. For example:

I cleaned my teeth and I drank my coffee. [two events in a sequence]

I had cleaned my teeth before I drank my coffee. [we understand there is some connection here - probably the coffee tasted bad because of the taste of the toothpaste, or else I am saying that I don't need to clean my teeth now because I already did it before the coffee]


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, good night.

Is the following sentence correct?

What had you done before you stated university?

I want to know: what was that person doing (their occupation) before started university?

Than you so much.

Hello Daniel H,

The sentence is grammatically correct (though there is a spelling error), but so would be the following sentence:  

What did you do before you started university?

Whether the past perfect (had you done) or the past simple (did you do) is correct depends on the particular context. Most of the time we would use the past simple to show activities in the past. When there is a direct connection between two events (one being the result of another, for example) then we might use past perfect.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

my question is "i was pleased to meet george" why use present tense instead of past tense. (meet instead of met)

Hi, I have something to clarify.

This is from Straits Times.

"Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said Mr Lai had not been specifically instructed to clean the glass panels as he was "old and walks with a limp". But he has insisted many times on doing it despite being advised otherwise.

The temple's operations manager, Mr Liu Khee Fang, had been especially concerned because Mr Lai would anchor one leg against the glass surface and stand with only one leg on the ladder."

Why was past perfect used in each time?

Please help. I don't understand why. It doesn't follow this "for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past"

Hello Phantomaxe,

In general, the past perfect is used to refer to a past action that occurred before some other reference point in the past, and so can be used in many different ways - not just 'for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time'.

The past perfect is very common in reports like this one - the article is reporting what the coroner said yesterday (this is the reference point in the past), and what the coroner said yesterday is a report about an earlier past event (the incident with Mr Lai). The other uses of the past perfect appear to follow from the past reference point of what the coroner said yesterday.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Good Morning!
I wanted to know if there is any difference in meaning between these two sentences - "When he heard the news, he fainted." and "When he had heard the news, he fainted."