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

 

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Average: 4 (4 votes)
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

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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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