Do you know how to use phrases like she had left, he hadn't studied and we had been waiting?

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 sir..
i want to ask you the difference between "for and to"
for example this line.
come to office to ask anything or come to office for ask anything.
which sentence is right in both of them and why?

Hello asma,

Only the sentence with 'to' is correct here. 'to' and 'for' can both be used to talk about purpose, but are used in different and very diverse ways. 'to' is used as part of an infinitive, whereas 'for' is a preposition and therefore any verb that follows it must go in the -ing form. I'd suggest you look up both words in the dictionary and read through the explanations and examples there.

Best regards,
The LearnEnglish Team

Can you please tell me the below sentence is correct?
i.e., " When I woke up this morning ,My father had been singing in the kitchen?"

Hi tanuja,

More generally, this sentence would probably be 'When I woke up this morning, my father was singing in the kitchen.' Your sentence could be correct, but it implies that he started singing before you woke up; this sentence would be used if that fact were significant in some way, but this is unclear without the context.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi am trying to learn english perfect so am very happy to know this site and thanks alot for your help

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

Hello Corca,

For pronunciation, it's important to listen to good models and then to imitate them. Most of our materials in Listen & Watch have materials with recordings and transcripts. Try listening with the transcript (listening and reading). Then try saying the text yourself, and practise it until you pronounce it as closely to the recording as you can.

For writing, you should get feedback from a teacher or knowledgeable friend on your writing. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources to give users individualised feedback on their writing, but you can still use LearnEnglish to do some work on your own.  You can respond to other users in the comment sections to carry on a written conversation, just as I am responding to you now. Good writers learn from reading other writers' texts, so you could learn a lot about writing from reading the content on the site. Our Magazine could be a good place to start if this interests you, and reading will also help you with your vocabulary, i.e. learning more words.

Finally, please note that there is a handy dictionary search box on the lower right side of this page under Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Best regards,
The LearnEnglish Team

Ok sir

I just have seen the new activity here which was really amezing , I am going to read out some new topics here , but I just want to tell you about my experiance , this has been really good for me to improve English , I really did not get much ideas when I joined it , but now , I have lots off things and I am able to understand what you 're trying to say , it can not have been possible without it , again I would be thank full you too ! I have been member of it since a year ,

Hello sanjay,

Thanks very much for your comment! It's always great to know when people find LearnEnglish useful - that's what we're here for.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team