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 with before

We can also use the past perfect followed by before 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.

Adverbs

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

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Average: 4.2 (5 votes)

Hello Goncharush,

Both forms are possible and I can't think of any context in which only one would be possible.

There is no need to change 'last'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Goncharush on Sun, 25/11/2018 - 16:46

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In your grammar section you wrote: “I work in Italy” Reported speech: He told me that he works in Italy. It isn’t always necessary to change the tense. If something is still true now – he still works in Italy – we can use the present simple in the reported sentence. My question is whether it is possible to change the tense (he worked in Italy) and will the sentence still have the same meaning.

Hello Goncharush,

You are right in thinking that both 'works' and 'worked' are grammatically correct in this case. When the verb is in the present simple, it indicates that he still works there at the time of speaking. When the verb is in the past simple, the meaning is ambiguous: it could indicate the same as the present simple, or it could be speaking only about the past. Context should usually make the meaning clear, though it's also possible for the sentence to be unintentionally ambiguous.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by andreus1999 on Fri, 23/11/2018 - 14:29

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Hi I have learnt that when we are talking about how long something is happening we use the past perfect continues, is this true? if it's true why the structure of this phrase?: It had not rained for three months, so the land was very dry. it shouldn't be: it hadn't been raining for three months,so the land was very dry. please correct me if I have redacted wrong
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 24/11/2018 - 08:54

In reply to by andreus1999

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Hello andreus1999,

Simple forms can include duration:

I lived in Paris for many years.

 

We use progressive aspect when an action is interrupted by another event:

I was living in Paris when my brother got married.

 

There are other uses of progressive aspect. You can read about them on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aya salah on Thu, 15/11/2018 - 16:27

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Hi learn English team I was searching on the internet and I found this sentence: yesterday we had walked to school but later rode the bus home. But then the sentence was corrected and had walked changed with walked Why here the past perfect changed to past

Hi Aya salah,

It's really difficult for us to explain this without the context, as there are so many possibilities and to explain them takes quite a bit of effort on our part. But, to try to help you, note that the past perfect doesn't make sense if there isn't some other past reference point. I suppose that's why this sentence was corrected this way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bakh.sh85 on Thu, 08/11/2018 - 13:25

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Thank you a lot Mr. Kirk for the response. Thanks for The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bakh.sh85 on Wed, 07/11/2018 - 15:53

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Hello I want to comment and ask questions to get help from you on other topics too..for example on "tag questions" or any other topics but as i see no one has commented on the mentioned topic..can we ask our questions here for other topics too? Thank you a lot...
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 08/11/2018 - 07:05

In reply to by bakh.sh85

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Hello bakh.sh85,

You are welcome to ask us questions about question tags or other topics. We only ask that you ask them on the most relevant page you can find. For example, to ask about question tags, the most logical page would be our question tags page, but since there is no space for comments there, the next most relevant is probably questions and negatives.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team