Read the grammar explanation and do the exercise.

When we talk about something that happened in the past we sometimes want to refer back to something that happened before that time. We can use the past perfect tense (had + past participle) to do this.

 


Look at these two sentences.

 

  • John left the house at 7:30 yesterday morning.
  • Mary rang John’s doorbell at 8:15 yesterday.

Both actions happened in the past so we use the past simple tense. But look at how we can combine the sentences.

  • Mary rang John’s doorbell at 8:15 yesterday but John had already left the house.

We use the past perfect (had left) because the action happened before another action in the past (Mary rang the doorbell.)

Look at some more examples of the past perfect.

  • When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she had washed the cat.
  • I got a letter from Jim last week. We’d been at school together but we’d lost touch with each other.

The past perfect is used because they were at school before he received the letter. It refers to an earlier past.

Look at these 2 sentences.

  • James had cooked breakfast when we got up.
  • James cooked breakfast when we got up.

In the first sentence, the past perfect tells us that James cooked breakfast before we got up. In the second sentence, first we got up and then James cooked breakfast.

Past perfect continuous

The past perfect can also be used in the continuous.

  • I realised I had been working too hard so I decided to have a holiday.
  • By the time Jane arrived we had been waiting for 3 hours.

NOTE
The most common mistake with the past perfect is to overuse it or to use it simply because we are talking about a time in the distant past.

For example we would not say

The Romans had spoken Latin

but rather

The Romans spoke Latin

because it simply describes a past event, and not an event before and relevant to another past event.

Remember that we only use the past perfect when we want to refer to a past that is earlier than another time in the narrative.

 

Exercise

Language level

Intermediate: B1

Comments

Hi everyone,
I am the new member in this community. I do need your help with my English practical. My most concern about English is speaking.
Thanks!

Hi Ringsey,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! To work on your speaking, I'd suggest working with our audio and video materials under Listen & Watch, and would particularly recommend Series 3 of the Elementary Podcasts as a good place to start. 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 and oral fluency, which will also increase your confidence.

It's also of course essential to speak with other people as often as you can. Perhaps you have a friend or colleague or family member who knows some English - try speaking only in English with that person, or at least part of the time only in English. If you can, use some of the expressions you learned from the podcasts when you're speaking.

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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi SIr,
 
I am very happy joining it.
Thank you very much for creating this site.
Atul

I'm very happy to stay here!!!
 

HI i am noorzai from india my english is not very good and for that i am trying this website please help me to improve my english
THANKS

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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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.

I'm very happy to stay here in Bristish :)

where r u from

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
Mohamed

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