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?

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

 

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Hello AminulIslam. Please do not post comments more than once! We generally answer one comment per user per day. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 25/04/2019 - 17:08

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Dear sir, I would like to know the exact difference in the meaning of the following sentences. Actually what difference that "get" and "is" make in the following sentences. 1.He gets infected with viral infection. 2.He is infected with viral infection. Thanking you in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 06:41

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon 'gets' speaks about a process, i.e. the process by which he becomes infected, whereas 'is' speaks about a state, i.e. his condition at a particular moment in time. Please note it's unusual to use the present simple with 'get' to speak about a specific person at a specific time. You could say 'People often get infected due to inadequate hygiene' (which speaks about a general process) but to speak about a specific person, you'd need to say either 'He got infected due to inadequate hygiene' or 'He is likely to get infected' or 'He may get infected'. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RAVI DESAI on Tue, 23/04/2019 - 14:35

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I have one query regarding the past perfect tense usage. Here is a passage in which I want to talk about notes written in a library book by previous borrower. Check the passage and let me know whether I have used past perfect correctly or not. (here at the end of this sentence should I put a question mark ?? ) "It usually happens that while reading a book you come across a new friend. This friend is the one whom you may never meet in person. He is the person who had borrowed this book a long time ago and written notes in the book you are presently reading."
Hello RAVI DESAI, The past perfect in your text is fine. It describes an action before another action in the past which is relevant to the later action. However, the other action should be past simple (wrote) rather than a past participle (written). It would be fine to have both verbs in the past simple. There are some other issues with articles, in the text. However, LearnEnglish is a site for language explanation, not proof reading or text correction. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by AminulIslam. on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 15:06

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Sir, sorry to say you are not approving my comments. but why? I am eager to learn English so make comment on this site. For kind information I am not a native speaker.
Hello AminulIslam. We check all comments before they are published, and we check them two or three times most days. This means you might have to wait several hours before your comments appear on our site. I have not published the comments that you posted multiple times. Please be patient and please only post your comments one time. We also generally answer only one question per user per day, so please also keep that in mind. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by AminulIslam. on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 14:58

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Which one is correct? Her sister told me that..... a.she had done the assignment the previous day. b.she had done the assignment . c. she did the task yesterday.
Hello AminulIslam. If I had to choose one answer, I'd probably choose a, but all three of those answers could be correct. It depends on what you want to say and on the context. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sat, 13/04/2019 - 04:55

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Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.She is to see the movie. 2.She is to have seen the movie. 3.She was to see the movie. 4.She was to have seen the movie. Thanking you in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 14/04/2019 - 07:40

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon, I'm afraid it's not possible for us to answer questions like this. We're always happy to provide explanations of the material on our pages, or to explain particular points or rules of English, to answer this question we would need to write detailed explanations of multiple sentences, showing how different contexts change the meanings of each example. In other words, we would need to produce something like a lesson for you in the comments section. Please understand that we have many thousands of users on the site and deal with many comments every day. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sun, 31/03/2019 - 15:45

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Dear Sir, Kindly tell me what changes that "is" and "has been" makes in the following sentences. Please explain it. 1 According to McMillan,  the most common cause of death is car accidents. 2. According to McMillan, the most common cause of death has been car accidents. Thanks a lot in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 31/03/2019 - 18:26

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Hello Aniyanmon 'is' is in the present simple tense; 'has been' is in the present perfect (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-tense). 1 refers to a situation in general, as determined by the context. 2 refers to a more specific time period, from some moment in the past until the present. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Fri, 29/03/2019 - 02:33

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Dear sir, I would like to know the exact meaning of the following sentences. What changes that "rely on", " is relying" and "has relied" make in the following sentences. 1.Commuters travelling to and from work rely on the safety and efficiency. 2.Commuters travelling to and from work is relying on the safety and efficiency. 3.Commuters travelling to and from work has relied on the safety and efficiency. Thanking you
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 29/03/2019 - 07:11

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon, The second and third sentences are not correct as 'commuters' is a plural noun. You would need to say 'are relying' and 'have relied' for the verbs to agree with the subject. ~ The first sentence tells us about the commuters in general. It describes something which is generally true rather than describing something happening at one time or on a particular occasion. You can read more about this form (present simple) on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-simple ~ The second sentence (changed to 'are travelling') would describe something in progress at the time of speaking. It would refer to the commuters travelling now (as you speak), not to anything in general. You can read more about this form (present continuous) on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-continuous ~ The third sentence would need some other changes to be correct. You would need to add a time reference such as 'for many years' to provide a context for the action. The verb form here describes something which began in the past and is still true today. You can read more about this form (present perfect) on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-perfect ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Wed, 27/03/2019 - 17:54

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Dear sir, Kindly tell me which of the following sentences are correct. 1.Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident in beating. 2.Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents on whom he has confidence to beat. 3. Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident to beat. 4. Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident about beating. If there is no correct sentences, please prepare one for me. Thanking you
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 28/03/2019 - 06:29

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Hello Aniyanmon 1 and 4 are correct; I would be more likely to say 4 than 1. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Fri, 08/03/2019 - 09:56

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Dear Sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences: " He has been a police man " Is he still a police man ? or Was he a police man. Kindly clarify it's meaning There is a debate among us regarding the meaning of this sentence. Thanking you in advance 27 minutes ago
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 08/03/2019 - 16:04

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

In most situations, the use of the present perfect here indicates that he is still a policeman at the moment of speaking. There are situations where this may not be true, but that is dependent on the context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 07/03/2019 - 16:57

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Dear Sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences and also kindly let me know whether they are correct. 1. Is there a wooden cot in your house? 2. Do you have a wooden cot in your house? Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 08/03/2019 - 07:01

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon,

Both sentences are correct. Is there is a question about presence or lack of it; Do you have identifies ownership. For example, if I say there is a car outside my house then it is probably not my car, but if I say I have a car outside my house then the listener will understand that I am the owner.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Tue, 05/03/2019 - 14:01

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Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences 1. If you invited him, he might come 2. If you had invited him he might have come Do the above sentence having the same meaning. Kindly clarify. Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 06/03/2019 - 11:01

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Hello Aniyanmon

Sentence 1 uses a second conditional structure and talks about an imaginary situation in the present or future. Sentence 2 uses a third conditional structure and talks about an imaginary past situation, i.e. a situation in the past that did not happen, but could have happened if the condition had been met.

You can see more about conditionals on our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Tue, 05/03/2019 - 04:18

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Dear Sir, I would like you ask you the meaning of the following sentence 1. John might have failed the test but he was lucky and passed it. Is this sentence right, if yes, kindly tell me it's meaning Thank you in advance
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 05/03/2019 - 06:35

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon,

The sentence is correct.

We can use might have to describe something that was a possibility in the past. Your sentence means that there was a chance of not passing but in the end John was successful.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Mon, 04/03/2019 - 06:57

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To respected Peter.M, A couple of months back you cleared a doubt of another person. He asked you which of the following sentence is right 1.I lived in Kurdistan for two years 2. I have lived in Kurdistan for two years You answered as follows In the first sentence 'lived' the speaker no longer lives in Kurdistan. In the second sentence the speaker still lives there. The past simple describes finished actions or states in the past. The present perfect links a past action or state to the present. Sir, I have been working in a government department since 2003. My doubt is can I say " I have joined the department in 2003". As you said "The present perfect links a past action or state to the present". Yes still now I am working in the same department. So I believe that the usage of " have" is right in the above sentence. Humbly request you to clarify my doubt. Thanking you in advance

Hello Aniyanmon

I hope you don't mind me answering for Peter. In this case, it would not be correct to say 'I have joined the department in 2003' because the action of joining the department happened in the past and only in the past. 'join' refers only to the first moment that you become part of a group and isn't used afterwards to refer to being a part of it.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sat, 02/03/2019 - 07:51

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Dear sir, Kindly advise me to write the following matter grammatically : "Certified that Shi.Albert had attended his duty from 01/01/2019 to 28/02/2019 except holidays. This certificate is issued to be produced before the District Medical Officer of Health, Idukki" Sir, is the usage of " had" in the above sentence is right
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 03/03/2019 - 07:28

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Hello Aniyanmon,

I think the past simple is required here rather than the past perfect:

Shi.Albert attended his duty

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Fri, 01/03/2019 - 14:43

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Dear sir, Today ie on 01/03/2019 I read a news in a popular news paper. The news goes as follows : "The total number of IPS officers in service was 111. Of this about 16 officers have retired since January 2018 - that was when the list was published ". Sir, is the usage of " have " right in this context Thanks in advance
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 01/03/2019 - 16:43

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Hello Aniyanmon

Yes, the present perfect is appropriate and correct in this context, i.e. a time period that began in the past (January 2018) and which includes the present moment.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Fri, 01/03/2019 - 12:41

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Dear sir, Kindly help me to write the following letter grammatically. "As per order no.5/RCH dated 10/01/2019 Sri.Arun was transferred to Head office. As per order no.6/RCH dated 15/02/2019 I have been transferred to District hospital. I had joined duty on 19/02/2019. I have verified all the files there." I would like to know whether use of " had " is correct in the above usage
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 02/03/2019 - 07:51

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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sir want to have your guidance a bit.... this is like.. ..........by 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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Mehrdad87 on Wed, 06/02/2019 - 09:29

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Why I can not comment in other sections/topics?

Hello Mehrdad87,

Most pages on LearnEnglish have comments sections but some do not. If you want to ask a question then use another page – try to find a page on a similar topic or language point so other users interested in the subject will see it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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???