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.

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

 

Language level

Average: 4.2 (95 votes)
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Mon, 05/08/2019 - 15:25

In reply to by corflz

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Hello corflz

Both forms are possible, but the past simple form is probably better in more contexts than the past continuous form.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sat, 03/08/2019 - 10:45

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Dear Sir, Can I say "My friend got married to a girl who had already been working here in this office" (If the girl is still working the same office currently) Regards kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 04/08/2019 - 21:47

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj

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Hello kingson

It would be strange to say it that way; 'was working' would be the best form for most situations.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sat, 03/08/2019 - 10:44

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Why a simple present tense in the direct speech, becomes a past tense in the indirect speech (eg. Direct - He said to me "She goes to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she went to shop) Whereas the past tense in direct speech becomes past perfect in the indirect speech? (eg. Direct - He said to me "She went to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she had gone to the shop) Is there any difference between these two indirect sentences or do they vary in their meaning? Regards, kingson

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sat, 03/08/2019 - 10:42

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What is the difference between "Are you the one, who was going to come or do we need to expect another" or "Are you the one, who has been going to come or do we need to expect another"?

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 13:23

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What is the difference between "Are you the one, who was going to come or do we need to expect another" or "Are you the one, who have been going to come or do we need to expect another"?

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 04:52

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Why a simple present tense in the direct speech, becomes a past tense in the indirect speech (eg. Direct - He said to me "She goes to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she went to shop) Whereas the past tense in direct speech becomes past perfect in the indirect speech? (eg. Direct - He said to me "She went to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she had gone to the shop) Is there any difference? Regards, kingson

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 04:46

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Dear Peter, Can I say "My friend got married married to a girl who had already been working here" (If the girl is still working the office currently) Regards kingson

Submitted by Englishlearner123 on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 19:58

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Hello Kirk. Thank you the explanation was extremely clear. But I am confused a little about the next statement: I am wondering why the past perfect continuous is used here instead of the past continuous. "-I knew a man who tried to cheat in an exam by writing all the answers on the sole of his shoes. -Did he pass? -No. It had been raining, so the ink had washed off. " Is it possible to use both perfect and perfect continuous tenses here and why? Sorry for disturbing you. Thanks in advance

Hello Englishlearner123

Yes, that sentence is perfectly natural and correct. In this case, the continuous form is describing the background situation (which is a common usage of the continuous aspect) and the simple form is clarifying the relative sequence of events.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team