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 (126 votes)

Submitted by shubhamgupta on Fri, 25/01/2019 - 15:23

sir ,i have to have you to clear something...this is like... i had a car i have had a car what is the difference between them? and second is this... i told you he would take the girl. i told you he will take the girl here,what do these two tell about the sense???

Hello shubhamgupta,

I had a car tells us about a specific time, and there must be a reference to that time either in the sentence (I had a car in 2005 / I had a car when I was a student) or implied in the context.

I have had a car does not refer to a specific time (and it would be ungrammatical to provide one), but rather tells us about your life as a whole.


We would say I told you he woud take the girl when either the girl has already been taken or we have some information to tell us that it is certain.

We would say I told you he will take the girl when we still do not know if it will happen or not, and are reminding the other person of our prediction.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sridhar reddy on Thu, 10/01/2019 - 13:22

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Hello Sridhar reddy

Thanks for your comment! We hope you learn a lot here and look forward to seeing you around!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by D8023 on Wed, 09/01/2019 - 21:18

Hello leanenglish team, I get confused a lot in the use of past perfect continuous and the present perfect continuous. Any advice?

Hello D8023,

We have a number of pages dealing with these verb forms in our main grammar section and in our Intermediate grammar section.

It's not really possible for us to provide long explanations in the comments sections, but if you have a particular example which you find confusing then we'll be happy to try to clarify it for you.



The LearnEnglish Team

well, for example, this two. do they mean the same thing? I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school. I have worked here since I left school.

Hi D8023

In this case, only 'I had worked' (había trabajado) is the correct form (not 'have worked' -- he trabajado). The sequence of events is this: 1. you started working in the factory, 2. the factory closed, 3. you were sorry. By saying 'had worked', it's clear that your working there was before the factory closed and you were sorry.

If you said 'have worked', it suggests that you are still working there now. This doesn't make sense since earlier you said the factory already closed. If you said Estuve triste cuando la fábrica cerró. He trabajado ahí desde que dejé el colegio it would sound strange, right? It would sound the same way in English.

The present perfect always refers to or touches the present time in some way -- its reference point is the present--whereas the past perfect has a past time as a reference point.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

for example this one: They had been waiting long when the bus arrived-just a few minutes. is this correct?