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 (127 votes)
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 02/03/2019 - 07:51

In reply to by Aniyanmon


Hello Aniyanmon,

I'm afraid we don't check texts or correct them. We have far too many users and are too small a team to offer such a service!


I'm not sure what you mean by I had joined duty on... but I imagine you are talking about beginning work there. In that case we would probably say

I took up my post there on...

However, it is hard to be sure without knowing the full situation.



The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user AminulIslam.

Submitted by AminulIslam. on Mon, 25/02/2019 - 06:37

Sir, which one is preferable? 1.An intensive search was coonducted by the detective to locate those criminals, who had escaped or who escaped.

Hello AminulIslam

It depends on the context, but probably the first one is better.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user AminulIslam.

Submitted by AminulIslam. on Mon, 25/02/2019 - 04:06

Sir, which one is correct? and what is the meaning difference? 1.The path was paved, so we were able to walk through the path. 2.The path had been paved, so we were able to walk through the path. would you please explain the sequence of tense regarding these two sentences.

Hello AminulIslam.,

Both forms are possible in this context.

The past simple (was paved) here describes a feature of the path: the path was paved, the path was straight, the path was long etc.

The past perfect (had been paved) suggests a change has occurred: the path was not paved at one point and then had become paved.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shubhamgupta on Mon, 11/02/2019 - 07:03

sir want to have your guidance a bit.... this is like.. the tremendous amount of data they HAVE had to process in last three or four days. if i choose to eliminate the word "have" here, does it make any difference here??? what is point of using "have" here,cant they go without it?

Hello shubhamgupta

In this context, 'have had (to process)' is in the present perfect and 'had (to process)' would be in the past simple. There is a difference in meaning between the two. If you use the present perfect, the time period began three or four days ago and includes today, at least up until the present moment. If you use the past simple, the time period began three or four days ago and doesn't include the present moment.

Without knowing the context or the writer's intended meaning, I couldn't say which is correct, though I can say it would more common to use the present perfect with the time adverbial 'in the last three or four days'. If a past simple were to be used here, it'd be more common to say something like 'from Wednesday to Friday' or something more specific, as saying 'in the last three or four days' is understood to include the moment of speaking.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Mehrdad87

Submitted by Mehrdad87 on Wed, 06/02/2019 - 09:32

What are the differences between past perfect continuous and past continuous?

Hello Mehrdad87,


Past perfect forms describe an action in the past which happened before another action in the past, showing a connection between the two events of some kind.

Past continuous verbs describe an action in the past which was in progress around a point in time (or another action) in the past.


If you have a particular example in mind we'll be happy to comment on it for you.



The LearnEnglish Team