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.

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.



Language level

Intermediate: B1


Hi everyone,
can anyone tell me the sentence " I knew Johnson for 15 minutes" is possible and correct as i am trying to suggest that Johnson was alive before 15 minutes so at that time i met him but shockly i get news about him that he was passed away, so is it correct to say " I knew johnson for 15 minutes"?

Hello leonardo999,

Yes, that sentence is correct in that context.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

I'm a beginner and I'm learning english I'm little bit confused pas perfet tense normally we used had been but I'm which condition we use had been and third form if verb.. Example you'd been invited as well ?? Can u clear me this tense

Hello Monad Abbasi,

'had been' plus the third form of a verb is an example of a passive verb in the past perfect. Please see our active and passive voice page for an explanation of the passive, which I think will answer your question. But if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask them there.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello kirk, I sometimes get confused with past perfect tense and present perfect tense.

Did you have food vs Have you had food.

Did you go to a doctor vs Have you been to a doctor.

Could you please tell me which one to be used when like in what situations ?

Thanks in advance.

hi there! I,m new in this amazing website and i´m glad by this one.

by the way, i would like to know if i can download the videos of word on the street.

Hello jo lc,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm glad to hear you like the site and I hope we can help you to improve your English.

I'm afraid the videos of Word on the Street are not available for download, for legal and technical reasons. However, you can download the transcripts for each episode and you can access them online as often as you wish.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

hello friends my name is corca baidy fall and i live in Senegal.I'am a new come and i have got my bacclaureat in this years and now i'am following english in univercity and my level is not better.Can you help memy friends


Can you be a little more precise? What exactly do you need or want to practise? What areas of English do you need to improve?

Remember, the more concrete you can be, the more we will be able to help you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Tank you sir i have problem in the pronouciation and writting and i d'ont know some words