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)
Profile picture for user AminulIslam.

Submitted by AminulIslam. on Sat, 27/04/2019 - 17:01

Dear sir M peter I have some confusion about using time conjunction -before and after. which one is correct and why? 1.He will come after she goes. 2.He will come after she has gone. would you please mention all uses of before and after as a conjunction. my last question is.. Before can be used in future perfect? please give some examples.
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
Profile picture for user Aniyanmon

Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 25/04/2019 - 17:08

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.
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 26/04/2019 - 06:41

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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

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
Profile picture for user AminulIslam.

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
Profile picture for user AminulIslam.

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