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

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,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there,

One of the above examples says 'Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours'

Would it be correct if say 'Everything was wet. It was raining for hours'

Thank you for your help.

Kind Regards,
SK

Hello SK,

That really depends on the context. If you have one in mind, please let us know, but I can't think of a context off the top of my head when the sentence you propose would be natural.

The idea in the example sentence is that you make an observation about a past situation ('everything was wet') and then explain how that situation happened due to a previous action ('it had been raining').

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Can I use "I am here since morning, instead of I have been here since morning"?

Hello Bishad,

No, I'm afraid not. The present perfect is needed here and the present simple ('am') would not be correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir. Could you please tell me if the following sentence is grammatically correct? It has to be with reported speech:

"Which computer did you like best?" My mother asked my father.
My mother asked my father which computer he had liked best.

I wrote this last one (the reported sentence), but I'm not sure if it is correct, so I'll appreciate your help.
Thanks in advance.

Hello Daniel H,

Yes, that is correct and is probably the best answer in general.

Just so you know, it's also possible to write it as '... which computer he liked best', though the meaning is a bit different. If you use the past perfect form, it views your father's evaluation of the computers at that past moment in time, i.e at the time he was in the computer store, he liked one the most.

If you use 'liked' instead of 'had liked', the time reference is not as specific. This could, for example, indicate that your father still likes one computer over the others now, some time after he visited the computer store.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team,

I've got these two sentences which I am not sure which tense to use :
1. Jack was born in 1900. He was influenced by his father who SPENT (or "had spent) years working in England.
SInce this sentence is clearly about the past (story happened in 1900) so past tense " spent" makes sense to me. But if we look at the whole sentence, I also think past perfect "had spent " also makes sense as the act of spend had happended before the act of influence.

2. Mary moved into her house in 1985 and John had lived (or has lived) next door since he came to the area in 1980

Can I use either tense ? If past perfect is used, does it emphasis the fact the John had lived there before mary moved in ? And if present perfect is used, does it emphasis that he still lives there now ?

thank you

Hello Widescreen,

It is often the case that more than one form is possible in a given sentence, particularly with regard to aspect (perfective and continuous). In your first example both the past simple and the past perfect are possible. Which is desired depends upon the context (which we do not have) and the speaker's intention (which we do not know). In general, the past perfect shows some relationship between a past even and an earlier event; the past simple shows simply two completed events in the past.

The same is true of the second example. The past pefect may be appropriate if the action being described (living in the house) was related in some way (influenced in some way) another event, either within the sentence or in the broader context. The same is true of the present perfect, but it would need to relate to the present, from the speaker's perspective. Again, this context is not known to us.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your clarification.

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