Past perfect

Past perfect

Do you know how to use phrases like They'd finished the project by March or Had you finished work when I called? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how the past perfect is used.

He couldn't make a sandwich because he'd forgotten to buy bread.
The hotel was full, so I was glad that we'd booked in advance.
My new job wasn't exactly what I’d expected.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Time up to a point in the past

We use the past perfect simple (had + past participle) to talk about time up to a certain point in the past.

She'd published her first poem by the time she was eight. 
We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain.
Had the parcel arrived when you called yesterday?

Past perfect for the earlier of two past actions

We can use the past perfect to show the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action.

When the police arrived, the thief had escaped.

It doesn't matter in which order we say the two events. The following sentence has the same meaning.

The thief had escaped when the police arrived.

Note that if there's only a single event, we don't use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago.

The Romans spoke Latin. (NOT The Romans had spoken Latin.)

Past perfect after before

We can also use before + past perfect to show that an action was not done or was incomplete when the past simple action happened.

They left before I'd spoken to them.
Sadly, the author died before he'd finished the series.


We often use the adverbs already (= 'before the specified time'), still (= as previously), just (= 'a very short time before the specified time'), ever (= 'at any time before the specified time') or never (= 'at no time before the specified time') with the past perfect. 

I called his office but he'd already left.
It still hadn't rained at the beginning of May.
I went to visit her when she'd just moved to Berlin.
It was the most beautiful photo I'd ever seen.
Had you ever visited London when you moved there?
I'd never met anyone from California before I met Jim.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 2


Language level

Average: 4.2 (121 votes)

Hi Callista,

Either form can work in that sentence. 'had been' emphasises the sequence (first treatments, then dismissal) more, but both are correct.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Aishaika

Submitted by Aishaika on Fri, 31/08/2018 - 12:39

Hellow. You came at 9:30 am my dear, you were already late the Office was closed , we normally close the office at 8:30 am, try next time during weekdays where we work up to 1:00 pm. Is my sentence correct ? Is it necessary to use past perfect or we may also use past simple to explain things happened before in sequence?
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 31/08/2018 - 18:29

In reply to by Aishaika


Hello Aisha na Shadee,

The tenses in your sentence are all correct. Yes, the past simple can be used to narrate a sequence of past events; the past perfect wouldn't be appropriate here.

I would recommend breaking up the sentence into shorter pieces. For example, after 'late' and before 'try'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Imran 26

Submitted by Imran 26 on Thu, 02/08/2018 - 02:07

Hi Sir, is there any section at this site for active & passive voices?

Hi Imran 26,

There are several pages on this topic and also references to it on various skills pages. To find pages on particular topics you can use the search facility. Just type in, for example 'passive' and you will see a list of results.

You can also use our grammar pages. Click on the Verbs section and then look for the link to active and passive voice on the right.

You can also look at our Intermediate Grammar pages, which has a link to passives.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Thomas2300 on Fri, 13/07/2018 - 18:22

Hello, can you tell me if the following sentence is correct: She is ok now but she had been feeling sick for over a week AFTER she went to a doctor. ( this sentence is from an exercise book and another option instead of AFTER was ONCE. Which word is more suitable in the context: after or once? Can we use AFTER with past perfect continuous? Thanks a lot!

Hello Thomas2300,

I think 'after' is the better of the two options. 'Once' would suggest that the visit caused her to feel sick; 'after' simply tells us that the visit did not solve the problem immediately.

You can use the past perfect coninuous following 'after'.


Generally, we do not comment on examples from other sources. We're happy to discuss our own examples and the information on our pages, but if you have a question about something in other materials you really need to ask the author. We don't know the context and may not agree with what is being explained.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by megank333 on Wed, 04/07/2018 - 14:45

Hello, Could you please tell me if this is correct, "They are not speaking about this during the lessons." ? I'd like to know how to talk about something which is ongoing. The lessons occurred in the past, and are still occurring. I wish to say that in general they do not speak about a certain thing during the lessons, as in they did not in the past and the do not in general so they will not in the future either. So I guess my question is, how do we speak about something in general, but in a continuous form because it is something that happens during something else. Is it possible? Sorry for the long and convoluted comment.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 05/07/2018 - 06:57

In reply to by megank333


Hello megank333,

The meaning here, if I understand you correctly, is a general one with reference to the lessons. In other words, you are not talking about a particular lesson or lessons, but rather something which is true during all lessons. The correct form here is the present simple (for general truths/typical behaviour) followed by a limiting time phrase:

They don't speak about this during the lessons.



The LearnEnglish Team