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


Hello Rafael,

First of all, please note that this general topic is covered on our quantifiers page - please be sure to have a look. When 'kind' or 'type' is singular, you should say 'this'; when you use 'kinds' or 'types' (plural), you should say 'these'. What comes after 'of' is most often singular or plural depending on what you mean.

'a lot of' is used with plural count nouns or uncount nouns, but not with singular count nouns. Therefore 'a lot of man' is not generally correct (only when 'man' is used as an uncount noun, which is rare) and 'a lot of person' is not correct. Note that 'a lot men' is not correct, either - the 'of' is necessary: 'a lot of men'.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hey guys I want to ask a question about fluency in English
My friend is pretty darn good at English and he really is fluent whenever he has a coversation with people(not infront of crowd just like casual conversation with anyone). everyone likes him because he can converse in English well even my English teachers always praise him how good he speaks English (almost like the native level) but I don't think he's fluent enough because everytime he gives a speech spontaneously in front of crowd his English is really terrible especially his grammar (happens during giving a speech/talk only). Sometimes I am doubting him because during speech/talk time only I can see his English is a disaster really terrible disorganized words Then I ask him the reason he can't speak English very well during speech in front of unknown people but can speak very well with anyone ( He hardly makes a mistake) he encounters. Then he says he's nervous in front of a lot of people and it makes his brain mentally blank, he doesn't know what to say like completely blank no ideas to talk spontaneously. Guys out there is he weird because in my opinion if one is really fluent in English surely can speak in front crowd. If Nervous is the problem how can I help him because he is my friend.

Can someone clarify this
I read an article and I have a doubt about its grammar because the title is (did you know)
Why it can be do you know because it's present tense (why past tense is used)
If it's correct can I use did you know in every conversation/writing
If it's wrong, please clarify do you know vs did you know

Hello Rafael darn,

We use 'did you know' to ask about the past, and 'do you know' to ask about the present.

Did you know John when you were a student? [The speaker knows that I know John now; he is asking about the past]

Do you know John? [The speaker is asking about the present - about now]

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! I have a question, hope you can help me.
If I say "these are the pictures I had taken during my year in Canada" for example, is this correct? Why?
I mean, this phrase should not have two verbs (one as Past Perfect and one as Simple Past) to be correct?
I saw this phrase at some webpage and now I'm wondering if it's right.


Hi gabiirosa,

I'm afraid this depends on the context. It could be an example of 'causative have' - you 'had the pictures taken' by someone else, who you paid to do it. It could be part of a broader context in which the year in Canada is an earlier past time, referenced in that context. Or it could be a mistake and the past simple may be a better alternative. It really is not possible to say for sure from just the sentence in isolation.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, everyone! I’m a new member here. I’ve wanted to improve my English. Hope that I can get help from anyone of you. Thanks a lot in advance.

I’d like to ask something about “Question Tags”. Are the following tags correct? If not, pls kindly tell me the right answers with explanations. Thanks in advance.

1) We needn’t take part in the contest, need we?
2) I wish to buy a new piano, may I?
3) She wishes she can have a new dress, may she?
4) One must never desert one’s friends, must they?
5) Nothing will ever change my dad’s mind, will it?
6) Neither A nor B will help us, will they?
7) I think she will help you, won’t she?
8) None of us will fail the test, shall we?
9) Let me help, will you?
10) Everyone in this class may be the champion, mayn’t they?
11) David ought to study harder, oughtn’t he?
12) Little information was available, was it?
13) What a great movie, isn’t it?

Hello bnpl,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm afraid we don't do users homework. Have you looked at our question tags page? There you can find an explanation with an exercise, which should help you be more confident of your understanding.

If there are a few questions you are particularly unsure, please feel free to ask us about them, but we don't review long lists of sentences like this - better for you to do that on your own.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

Thank you for your response.

l’m sorry for making you think that l was asking someone to do my homework. What I’d like to say is that l’m not a student and I don’t have to do any homework. I used to do all of my homework myself when I was a student. I’m just interested in English and want to learn more about it. Actually, the question tags which I’d like someone to check for me were almost done on my own. (Only 2 of them which I really don’t know how to do were from my colleague.)

Thank you for telling me about the “Question Tags” page which I’ve read already. Still, there are some statements that I’ve got no idea on what tags should be used. Before knowing about the British Council’s Iearning English website, I had checked out the relevant topic in “English Grammar in Use” written by Raymond Murphy, my nephew’s textbook as well as other learning English websites, no example sentences which are similar to some of those I was questioning about.

I’ll post those questions which I’m unsure and I don’t know on the relevant page again. l really hope that someone will give me a helping hand to solve my problems which has existed in my mind for quite a long time.

Thank you!

Best rgds,