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 Sourav,

If you haven't already, you should compare the explanation on our present perfect page with this one and I'd also especially recommend reading through our perfective aspect page. The first sentence is about the past (simple past and past perfect) and the second one is about the present, i.e. she still lives in Liverpool (present perfect).

The present perfect often indicates a finished action, but can also be used to speak about a state that is still true – in your second sentence, 'she' still lives in Liverpool.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Do the first sentence :"She didn’t want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life." infer that she is not alive now?
Only saying because as far as I have studied till now,
both present perfect and past perfect often indicates that the work is finished.
Only difference I have understood is, past perfect refers to a specific time when it had finished or valid.
The sentence from which I derived this concept:
"We use the past perfect to show that something continued up to a time in the past"

Hello Sourav Saha,

No, the sentence does not suggest that. It tells us that her time living in Liverpool continued up to another point in the past, but it does not tell us what happened after that. She may well be still living there - this information is not included in the sentence.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Will you please clarify the difference in situation among the sentences:
1."I had finished the work."
2."I have finished the work."
3."I finished the work."

Please clarify the above mentioned context.

Hello Sourav Saha,

I'm afraid we can't answer questions as broad as this. These are three different verb forms, each with multiple meanings and uses and each dependent on the context in which they are used. We can help with specific questions, but we simply don't have the time or space to write such long and wide-ranging answers as this.

The forms here are past perfect, present perfect and past simple. You can find pages on all of these forms in the Verbs section of our grammar reference. Please take a look at those pages and then if you have any specific questions we'll be happy to try to help.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


I am a native speaker and a TEFL teacher and even I am struggling with this!

Could I just ask you why on the exercise the sentence 'If I had known I probably never would have come' matches with the 'use' talking about past conditions and not up until the point of reporting. I would have thought that because 'come' is present tense that it would have been up until the point of reporting.

I really want to get to grips with this as much as I can for my students.

I also would like to ask how often you guys think that in modern day colloquial speech we actually use the past perfect. From speaking to other native speakers, many people seem to think it is only really used now in literature and occasionally in more formal speech.

Hello Fosterre04,

The 'if' clause in the sentence represents a condition - as in most conditional sentences. The 'not knowing' part does not necessarily continue up to the present. It is a state which was true at the point of decision (to go) but may have changed at any time after that. All we can be sure of is that when the speaker decided to go he or she did not know. We cannot say if that lack of knowledge continued.

'Come' here is a not present tense. It is the irregular past participle of the verb 'come', used in a modal expression: 'would have come'. If we use a different verb you can see it is a past participle:

would have seen

would have gone

would have wanted

The past perfect is used to connect past events to one another in logical ways. It requires for the events to have been considered together and related together in our mind, so it is a verb form which lends itself to writing and narratives. However, I do not think it is quite as unusual as you suggest.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir,

I am confused, please clarify my doubts.
'He started playing football when he was 9 years old. He became the best strike in the country when he was only seventeen'.

'He had started playing football when he was 9 years old. He become the best striker in the country when he was only seventeen.

here in the first sentence ' he started playing' noun followed by one past verb and present verb, and in second sentence ' he had started playing' noun followed by three verbs. and ' became the best strike ' and he become best striker ' all these are making confusing...

Dear Sir,

I have wrote few sentence bellow, please correct me where do I need to improve...

'After I had woken up , I did yoga, I had had a bath and I eaten breakfast and also I had gone to English tuition to improve my communication skills.

here i don't know how to join the past perfect tense and simple past..