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Past perfect

Do you know how to use phrases like They'd finished the project by March or Had you finished work when I called?

Look at these examples to see how the past perfect is used.

He couldn't make a sandwich because he'd forgotten to buy bread.
The hotel was full, so I was glad that we'd booked in advance.
My new job wasn't exactly what I’d expected.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Time up to a point in the past

We use the past perfect simple (had + past participle) to talk about time up to a certain point in the past.

She'd published her first poem by the time she was eight. 
We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain.
Had the parcel arrived when you called yesterday?

Past perfect for the earlier of two past actions

We can use the past perfect to show the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action.

When the police arrived, the thief had escaped.

It doesn't matter in which order we say the two events. The following sentence has the same meaning.

The thief had escaped when the police arrived.

Note that if there's only a single event, we don't use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago.

The Romans spoke Latin. (NOT The Romans had spoken Latin.)

Past perfect with before

We can also use the past perfect followed by before to show that an action was not done or was incomplete when the past simple action happened.

They left before I'd spoken to them.
Sadly, the author died before he'd finished the series.


We often use the adverbs already (= 'before the specified time'), still (= as previously), just (= 'a very short time before the specified time'), ever (= 'at any time before the specified time') or never (= 'at no time before the specified time') with the past perfect. 

I called his office but he'd already left.
It still hadn't rained at the beginning of May.
I went to visit her when she'd just moved to Berlin.
It was the most beautiful photo I'd ever seen.
Had you ever visited London when you moved there?
I'd never met anyone from California before I met Jim.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 2


Language level

Intermediate: B1


Hi Peter or Kirk, I am having problems with this sentence: She didn't feel like another coffee as she'd just had one....if you don't want to make it short would you say like this? as she had just had one???

Hello Paula,

Yes, that's right. In that sentence she'd just is a contraction of she had just. It's a past perfect form because the action precedes and is relevant to another action in the past (not wanting another coffee).



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Please let me know whether this sentence is right or wrong.
e.g. He was the most extra ordinary man I had ever seen in my life
Thank you.

Hello Lal,

The sentence is fine apart from one spelling issue: extraordinary should be one word, not two.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,
I just wanted to add a question to your answer.
Can we put the sentence in the following way?
"He was an extraordinary man that I have ever seen."
Thank you,

Hello kingson

I'm afraid that's not correct. I'd recommend something like 'He was one of the most extraordinary man I've ever seen'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,
Is it a necessity that the present tense has to be changed into a past tense in a reported speech.
e.g. Direct: Tim said to Tom," John is at home"
Indirect: Tim told Tom that John was at home.
Direct: Tim said to Tom, "John was at home".
Indirect: Tim told Tom that John had been at home.
Are the above mentioned conversions (from direct to indirect) right?
And one more thing............
Can we say the above mentioned statements without changing the tenses?
e.g. Direct: Tim said to Tom," John is at home"
Indirect: Tim told Tom that John is at home. (The present tense is not changed)

Direct: Tim said to Tom, "John was at home".
Tim told Tom that John was at home (Past tense is not changed)
Thank you,

Hello kingson

Yes, those first two pairs of sentences are all correct -- well done!

It is possible to say the other two pairs of sentences you ask about, but the first one ('Tim told Tom that John is at home') in particular would only be correct when we know that John is still at home at the time this sentence is used.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello kingson

Yes, that is correct: in this case, 'worked' can refer to the past or the present. The context will usually make it clear which meaning is intended.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello can we use past perfect to describe two or more actions
They had found it and they had investigated it but they had never found a solution for it.I know this is a dumb question but thr was something similar to this in a novel.
So can we deacribe two or more past actions using past perfect?