Past perfect

Learn about the past perfect and do the exercises to practise using it.

Level: intermediate

The past perfect is made from the verb had and the past participle of a verb:

I had finished the work.
She had gone.

The past perfect continuous is made from had been and the -ing form of a verb:

had been working there for a year.
They had been painting the bedroom.

The past perfect is used in the same way as the present perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present. We use the past perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past:

When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

For this use, we often use the past perfect continuous:

She didn't want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.
Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.

  • for something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point:

He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.
He had written three books and he was working on another one.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past and is important at a later time in the past

I couldn't get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn't at home. She had gone shopping.

We often use expressions with for and since with the past perfect:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there for ten years
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.
 

We do not normally use the past perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the past perfect simple instead:

Up until that moment, I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in astrology.

Past perfect

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Past perfect and past simple

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Past perfect and hypotheses

We can also use the past perfect to make hypotheses about the past (when we imagine something). See these pages:

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Hello Lexeus,

It's perfectly fine to put an adverb (once) between the auxilliary verb (had) and the past participle (snaked).

As far as the use of the past perfect in your example goes, it requires a past time reference point, but this may be included in the broader context in which the sentence appears. The use of the past perfect implies that the situation later (but still in the past) changed.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dukul on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 13:28

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What is the difference in meaning between these following sentences: 1. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had. 2. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I ever had. 3. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I have ever had.

Hello Dukul,

All of the sentences are grammatically possible. The first sentence suggests that the birthday was the worst day then, but may have since been superseded by something even worse. The second sentence tells us that the birthday is still the worst day and suggests that that fact will never change. The third sentence is similar to the second, but suggests that a worse day may still come along at some point.

 

In general, the choice of verb forms like this to use depends on the context in which you are going to use it and what you want to say. Is the sentence part of a narrative? Is it direct speech? Are there other events which form a context for the sentence?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by stoopid__pollack on Fri, 15/05/2020 - 22:26

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Hello, could anyone please explain to me which grammatical rule (or rules) warrants the use of the past simple tense after 'since' in the sentence used in the explanatory section above: I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode. Isn't the action of starting the programme earlier than my watching it. Why then the earlier action is expressed in the Past Simple and the action following it in the Past Perfect. This issue has been bothering me for some time now, and I sieved through some of my old grammar books and came across some other instances of this tense use, here they are: * We hardly recognized each other, because we hadn't met since we were young.(B.D. Graver. "Advanced English Practice. Oxford U. Press. 1990. page 85") * We all knew he had been drinking heavily since his wife died. (op. cit.) * He had been a soldier, since he was seventeen, and planned to stay in the army. (A.J. Thomson, A.V. Martinet. A Practical English Grammar, Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, 2001. page 175) I also found a sentence which, I would say, is more along the lines of what I believe or imagine I know about the use of the Past Perfect: * His father had died four years before and since then Tom had lived alone. (Thomson, Martinet. p.176) By the way, can this sentence be transformed into the following one: "Tom had lived alone since his father died." I would like to know why the Past Simple is used in the above clauses after "since". The coursebooks I cited only mention that such a tenses sequence is possible with "for" and "since" and they don't delve deeper into the matter. Is it some kind of a language praxis? Why is the Past Simple use after "since" not in violation of the rule that the earlier actions are expressed in the Past Perfect, as this what I imagine is the case with the word "since", which underscores an action earlier in time? Sorry for all the mistakes I probably made. Thank you in advance for all the responses and explanations. Have a nice day.
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 23:07

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Hello. Could you please help me? In the following sentence, can we use the past simple, the past perfect or both? Is there a difference? - Jane was not as good as her friends as she (had come - came) from a poorer family. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The past simple is the best option here as the verb does not describe a particular action but rather a permanent fact about Jane - something which will always be true and for which we would use the present simple normally, or the past simple in a narrative.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anubhav on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:20

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Could anyone help me with the prepositions, which one is correct ..i am going to the wedding or i am going for the wedding.

Hello Anubhav,

When we are going as a guest or to participate in the ceremony, we say 'to the wedding'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Parva on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 10:02

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What is the past perfect tense of ,"What shall we do?"

Hello Parva,

'Shall' is a modal verb and does not have a past perfect form. The perfect form of the modal would be 'should have', as in 'What should we have done?' but whether or not this is appropriate would depend on the context in which it is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anubhav on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 10:24

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My question is related to the usage of "have had" , would it be correct to say -As if you could'nt be any taller, you have had to wear heels too Or would you rather say "you had to wear heels too". The above statement is a present scenario . Thanks

Hello Anubhav,

The correct form here would be ...you had to...

The meaning of had to here is similar to 'you chose to' or 'you insisted on' rather than expressing obligation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks .. I get it now .. Could you also explain in what scenarios one would you "have had to" instead of have to

Hello again Anubhav,

I can't think of a context in which 'As if...' would be followed by '...would have had to...'

We use [would have + VERB3] for hypothetical/unreal situations, but 'as if' is not used to introduce conditional forms. We use 'as if' in the same way as 'as though': to show not a condition followed by a result, but rather the ironic surprise of the speaker at something they consider unnecessary or exaggerated.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

My bad .. what i meant to ask was what's the meaning of "have had to" like in following sentences and what is the general usage of "have had to" 1.Market organizers have had to be creative. ...... Here why can't i say have to be creative 2.Blackpool’s Liam Feeney admits they have had to find different ways of winning.... why not they have to Thanks a lot

Hello Anubhav

'would have had' and 'have had' are not the same. 'have had' is the present perfect of 'have'. The present perfect and present forms have very similar meanings -- please see the Present tense section of our grammar reference and its different subpages for an explanation of the differences in meaning.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by stanraw88 on Mon, 07/10/2019 - 03:19

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Hello - so would this sentence be correct then: "I had skipped breakfast, which made me so hungry" ?

Hello stanraw88

The verb forms in the sentence you ask about are grammatically correct, though without knowing what the context is, I can't really say whether they are correct for the situation.

People often use 'so' in this way in informal speaking, but I would recommend changing it to something like 'really' instead.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dayan on Sun, 06/10/2019 - 10:25

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I have a real problem to understand the use of before followed by the past perfect as in She bought a new car before she had sold the old one. By couldn't bought be a past perfect if it is the action that happened first?

Hello Dayan

You could indeed say 'She had bought a new car before she sold the old one' and the use of the past perfect for 'buy' in this way makes more sense to me too. I'm afraid I can't explain the sentence that you ask about without knowing more about the context it was written in -- sorry!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 19/09/2019 - 20:42

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Hello. Can I use either "got" or "had got" or both in the following sentence? - After I had got to the stadium, I realized that the match had already started. I think we can't use "had got" as there is another past perfect "had started" Thank you

Hello Ahmed,

You can use 'had got'. This is not because there is another past perfect, but rather because the action of arriving at (get to) the stadium comes before another action in the past (realise).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 23/08/2019 - 19:40

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Hello. Is it correct to use the past perfect tense to express past habits like in the following sentence? - I had always arranged my things before I went to bed. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that is correct as long as the habit is no longer true: I had always... but now I don't worry about that sort of thing.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

so, what is the difference between the two sentences? - I had always arranged my things before I went to bed. - I always arranged my things before I went to bed. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The first sentence (had always) would be used as part of a narrative, in which the speaker/writer is describing how things were before another time in the past, after which they were different. For example:

When I went to university I became a very messy person. I had always arranged my things before I went to bed, but at university I started leaving them all over the floor...

 

The second sentence simply describes the past. It does not suggest this comes before any other action in the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AfnanAlAhmad on Sat, 10/08/2019 - 19:20

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Thank you for your explanation for this example: She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life. why you didn't use the present perfect? I can't understand where is the past tine here

Submitted by Amit12148 on Wed, 07/08/2019 - 10:19

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Can we use ago" With past perfect tense If yes give me some examples

Hello Amit12148

By far the most common tense used with 'ago' is the past simple, but it is possible (though relatively rare) to use it with the past perfect. For example:

Three years ago, I had already moved to Spain.

Instead, we commonly use 'earlier' or 'prior' when the point of time is in the past, e.g. 'He had moved to Spain six years earlier'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wolfie95 on Wed, 31/07/2019 - 07:24

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Hello when I had arrive, my father was watching TV. is it true ?
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 31/07/2019 - 10:16

In reply to by wolfie95

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Hi wolfie95

No, the past simple is the correct form here: 'When I arrived, my father was watching TV.'

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Sat, 27/04/2019 - 10:13

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Hello Sir Is it alright to say 'I have been watching that program every week.' Is it grammatically correct? Thank you. Regards Lal
Hello Lal Yes, that is grammatically correct and natural for an appropriate situation. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 10/04/2019 - 20:24

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Hello. In your explanation above, there is the following sentence: "They had been staying with us since the previous week." Is it better to say "for the previous week" What is the difference? Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 11/04/2019 - 07:02

In reply to by Ahmed Imam

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Hello Ahmed Imam, There is a difference in meaning: > 'since the previous week' - this means that the staying began in the previous week and continued from then > 'for the previous week' - this means that the staying was for the period of the previous week (it lasted from the beginning of the previous week to the end of the previous week). ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Hello Peter, I have just read the following explanation on a website. When we say last week/month/year, etc. without the, we mean the week/month/year immediately before the current one. When we say the last week/month/year, etc., we mean the 7/30/365 days immediately before this one. If I am speaking on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, then Last week means the week from Sunday, October 28, 2012 to Saturday, November 3, 2012. The last week means the seven days before today, Wednesday, October 31 to today, November 6. Last month means October 2012. The last month means October 7 to today, November 6. Last year means 2011. The last year means November 7, 2011 to today, November 6. So on November 6, 2012, these sentences mean the following: I was sick last month. = I was sick some time in October. I don’t say for how long. I’m not sick now. I’ve been sick since last month. = I got sick some time in October, and I’m still sick. I don’t say for how long I’ve been sick because I don’t say when in October I became sick. (I could say I’ve been sick since early/mid/late October if I want to give more detail.) I’ve been sick for the last month. = I got sick 30 days ago and I’m still sick. What do you think of That explanation? Is it correct? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I'm afraid we don't comment on explanations from elsewhere. Our policy to offer our own material but not get into critiquing what other sites or books might have to say.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ali boroki on Tue, 01/01/2019 - 05:34

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Hello dear mentors and happy new year. Hope you all are doing well. Just i have a question about past perfect continous and past continous ,i really confused what is different between them and when should i choose one of them ,to get right sentence??? please give me some advice to realize. Thanks in advance.

Hello Ali boroki

I would first recommend you read our talking about the past page, where the differences between these tenses is explained. If you have any specific questions after that, please feel free to ask us there. It would help if you gave an example, even if you're not sure that it's correct.

All the best
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohammed Anas on Mon, 27/08/2018 - 23:36

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Hi, Hope you are doing well, I would like you to explain the following one. I know that if we use the "be with pastpatrticiable however, where we can use "Be with ing "( continues tense ) please explain
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 28/08/2018 - 19:21

In reply to by Mohammed Anas

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Hi Mohammed,

'be' is used to form any continuous tense -- please see our present continuous page for some examples.

Is that what you mean? I'm not sure I've understood your question. If you meant something else, please give us an example and we'll do our best to help you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Joanna on Tue, 07/08/2018 - 18:01

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Is this sentence correct? No no has attended to fix it even though the visit had been cheduled for this Monday

Hello Joanna,

No, that sentence is not correct. I can't be completely sure, not knowing the full context, but I think what you want to say is probably this:

No-one has been to fix it, even though the visit was scheduled for Monday.

 

However, I think the natural way to express it would be as follows:

Someone was supposed to come on Monday, but we are still waiting.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Tue, 17/07/2018 - 05:33

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Hello Sir Please let me know the following sentences are right or wrong because I have doubts. While my mother was cooking, the power went off. While my mother has been cooking, the power went off. ( I think this is wrong-present perfect cont.) but while my mother had been cooking, the power went off. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

The first sentence is correct. The second, as you say, is not. This is because the verb 'went' describes an action in a finished time frame, whereas 'has been cooking' describes unfinished time.

You could say 'While my mother has been cooking, the phone has rung three times'. This would all refer to unfinished time, so it would mean that she was still cooking and the phone might ring again.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir One more question under the same (While my mother was cooking, the power went off.) Can I say ?: While my mother had been cooking, the power went off. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hi Lal,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct. 'had been cooking' makes reference to some other past event that happened after the cooking, but no other such event is mentioned -- 'went off' describes an action that happened during the cooking, not after it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 12:15

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Hello Sir Thanks a lot for your answers regarding perfect tenses. Please help me regarding this,too.. They have been staying with us since previous month. They had been staying with us since previous month. Which one is correct? Both or one then which one. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hi Lal,

I'm afraid neither is correct, but both need only a minor change to make them correct. The second one would be correct if the word 'the' were inserted before 'previous' ('the previous month'). The first one would be correct if you changed 'previous' to 'last'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rsduraosa on Tue, 05/06/2018 - 13:04

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Could I say: He had written three books and he is working on another one. Thanks.