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 (123 votes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.