You are here

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


Hello kingson,

The past perfect describes an action in the past in relation to another action later in the past. Thus any past perfect form requires a second past time reference point. That could be in the same sentence or it could be in another sentence, or it could be simply understood from the broader context. There is no rule that a past perfect cannot be used with a present verb form. It depends on the context and whether or not there is a second past time reference.



The LearnEnglish Team

Excellent! You have answered my question. Thank you very much Peter for that. So, I understand that the following sentence is correct, if there is a past time reference in the following sentence (or) the past time reference is broadly understood in the context it is used. Please let me know whether I am correct or not.
Sentence: I do not know (Present tense) how he had done(past perfect) it).

Please also let me know whether the following example is correct or not.
Example sentences: John went (past time reference in the previous/first sentence) to U.S.A few years ago. But I do not know(present tense) how he had completed(past perfect) his Visa process.
Thank you, again.

Dear Sir,
Which one of the following is correct?
The children are going to school from Monday, last week.
The children have been going to school since/from Monday, last week.
Please enlighten me in this regard.
Thank you,

Hello kingson

The second one is correct if you use 'since'. 

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you very much for your reply. From your answer I can infer that if I use "from" , then the first sentence can also be correct. Is that right?
My understanding is if we use "have been going", it means it is temporary. But in this case, the children are going to school for the rest of their school life, so it cannot be temporary. So my opinion is we cannot use "have been going." Please let me know whether my opinion is right or wrong.
Thanks, again.

Hello kingson

It's true that a continuous verb form can be used to show that an action is temporary, but it's not true that all continuous verb forms mean this. In other words, in the appropriate context, your sentence could be talking about a temporary condition, but in other contexts it could have another one of the meanings on the page I linked to earlier.

I'm afraid that the first sentence in your first comment is not correct. In many languages (such as Spanish), it's correct to use a present continuous verb form to refer to an action that began in the past, but in English, the correct form for this kind of situation is the present perfect continuous.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Wow, that's great, Kirk. I have learnt new things on "continuous form from the link you sent me. Thank you for that.

Sir, I have using this app and trying to improve my English. Today I drafted a letter by myself. Could you plz check and suggest me where I am wrong. Please help me.

Respected Sir,

I am x working as a assistant in your company Since May 2015.

I am writing this letter to bring in your notice that my salary was deducted twice in the past.

Initially, it was deducted for 3 and 1/2 days in the month of December 2014. I had checked my past record and didn't find any correspondence which stated that I actually took enough CL in the year 2015.

Secondly, My salary was deducted for 4 days in the month of November 2017. On that year I had taken all my CL and applied for medical leave as I was 2 and a half months pregnant. I have miscarriages history so for me and my child wellbeing I preferred hospital near to my in-law's place as I stayed here alone.

I submitted my application according to Y Sir but I didn't get any receiving of that letter. This system of giving receiving on-letter was started recently by Mr Z, personal assistant. So I don't have any valid proof in this regard.

When it was done, I questioned Mr x Sir and he said he will sort out the matter but it didn't happen. My current senior official knows about this rue and they are ready for giving their statement on the same.
I hope I will get justice because I dedicated my whole potential and energy to this organization for the completion of any last-minute work. I know my seniors never deny how hard I worked here. I am attaching below my pregnancy checked reports.

It's my kind request to look into this matter and approve the salary which was deducted in the past. I will be always grateful to you and it will inspire me to work beyond my capacity.

Thanks and Regards

Hello Swati,

I'm afraid we don't provide a correction service on LearnEnglish. We're a small team here and we have thousands of users on the site. We're happy to provide explanations of particular language points but it's just not possible for us to correct texts like this.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply. You people are doing amazing work.