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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 chamildiss,

You can say "I have visited" (present perfect) or "I visited" (past simple); whether you return to Russia or not doesn't influence which form to use. The difference between these two forms is a matter of perspective. If you use the present perfect, the implied context is "in my lifetime until now" and if you use the past simple, you're simply stating a fact about the past. Neither of these statements make any suggestion about the future. You might find our talking about the past page useful to review the different forms used to speak about the past.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I prepared worksheets on Past Perfect using this page, a good test I had for my 8th graders...

Dear sir kirk

i'm really happy to be integrated in your social environment. i have a really low level, in the writing, reading and speaking. I need some guidance to learn english because i really have to improve level.

thank you

Hello Mohamed,

We're glad you're here as well! Have you looked around the site? I'd suggest that as a first step, as there are lots of different resources here.

What do you need to use English for? If, for example, you need it to study at university, then I would recommend working through our section on academic writing called Writing for a Purpose. If you need it for work, then I expect that you would find some useful content and practice in our Business & Work section. If you need to get a good mark on the IELTS exam, then our IELTS section would be really helpfu.

If you just want to improve in general and have no specific needs for now, I'd recommend working through different parts of Listen & Watch. Many users find the Elementary Podcasts and Big City Small World to be really helpful, and both have lots of exercises and downloadable content as well.

I hope that gives you some idea of the possibilities here. If your needs are different, then please let us know more specifically what they are, and we'll be happy to guide you.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

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where r u from

Hello everyone. I'm a new member here. I'm from Ukraine. English is my hobby and profession at the same time. It's easily for me to understand English but rather difficult to speak and write right. I hope to improve it with your help.

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Hello noorzai,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! There are lots of resources here, and I'd encourage you to look through the different sections to get an idea of the possibilities.

Or, if you already know, for example, that you want to work on your listening or speaking, I'd suggest listening to our audio and video materials (there are several sections under Listen & Watch). There are transcripts and exercises to help you improve your listening comprehension, and you can use the audio as a model that you can imitate to learn new expressions and improve your pronunciation.

Whatever you do, it's best to try to have contact with English every day, even if it's only for a short time. Little by little, you should see that you improve!

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

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