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.

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

Dear sir,

I would like to know the exact meaning of the following sentences. What changes that "rely on", " is relying" and "has relied" make in the following sentences.

1.Commuters travelling to and from work rely on the safety and efficiency.

2.Commuters travelling to and from work is relying on the safety and efficiency.

3.Commuters travelling to and from work has relied on the safety and efficiency.

Thanking you

Hello Aniyanmon,

The second and third sentences are not correct as 'commuters' is a plural noun. You would need to say 'are relying' and 'have relied' for the verbs to agree with the subject.
~
The first sentence tells us about the commuters in general. It describes something which is generally true rather than describing something happening at one time or on a particular occasion. You can read more about this form (present simple) on this page:
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-simple
~
The second sentence (changed to 'are travelling') would describe something in progress at the time of speaking. It would refer to the commuters travelling now (as you speak), not to anything in general. You can read more about this form (present continuous) on this page:
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-continuous
~
The third sentence would need some other changes to be correct. You would need to add a time reference such as 'for many years' to provide a context for the action. The verb form here describes something which began in the past and is still true today. You can read more about this form (present perfect) on this page:
https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-perfect
~

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for your detailed reply

Dear sir,

Kindly tell me which of the following sentences are correct.

1.Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident in beating.

2.Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents on whom he has confidence to beat.

3. Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident to beat.

4. Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident about beating.

If there is no correct sentences, please prepare one for me.

Thanking you

Hello Aniyanmon
1 and 4 are correct; I would be more likely to say 4 than 1.
All the best
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot sir

Dear Sir,

I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences:

" He has been a police man "

Is he still a police man ? or Was he a police man. Kindly clarify it's meaning

There is a debate among us regarding the meaning of this sentence.

Thanking you in advance

27 minutes ago

Hello Aniyanmon

In most situations, the use of the present perfect here indicates that he is still a policeman at the moment of speaking. There are situations where this may not be true, but that is dependent on the context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you sir

Dear Sir,

I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences and also kindly let me know whether they are correct.

1. Is there a wooden cot in your house?

2. Do you have a wooden cot in your house?

Thanks in advance

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