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 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

thank you sir..
and can you suggest me which dictionary is much better for improving english language?

Hello asma,

I'm afraid we can't recommend dictionaries, but please note that there is a very good dictionary with a handy searchbox here on-site: the Cambridge Dictionaries Online on the lower right of each page.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

When the bell has just rang, I finished my dinner.

The house had been built around 100 AD.

Also do resend the invoice to me

Are these sentences correct grammatically?

Hello suatneo,

In order, the sentences are incorrect, correct and correct. However, whether the correct ones are be appropriate or not depends on the context in which they are used.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Would anyone please confirm the correctness of this sentence: "When his father had dissuaded him from buying that property--if he had listened to his father then, he would not have landed in trouble today."

My point is that--are we allowed to use the past perfect tense twice consecutively in any sentence?
Answer from a native speaker is welcome.

Hello manobhazarika,

It is certainly possible to use two past perfects in the same sentence, but the one you ask about is unnatural. The past perfect 'had dissuaded' could make sense given a certain context, but unless there is some other point in time it is related to, a past simple form would probably make more sense here. Note that the past perfect 'had listened' is part of a third conditional and so has a different time reference than a normal past perfect form.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I just had this idea--since the 'not listening' was in the past perfect(third conditional)--and also, since the dissuasion thing would have occurred concurrently(or may be a little bit before) to his 'not listening' --so the simplicity in its past form would cause some confusion and that it required the perfectness. Anyway you cleared up my confusion. Much thanks to you Kirk.

hello english teachers out there
Can you explain to me about :
This kind/type of thing
This kind/type of things
These kinds/types of thing
These kinds/types of things
Do we say this kind of person or kind of people?

2. A lot of people vs a lot person
A lot of man vs a lot men
Usually after a lot of we use plural form is it correct