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 (122 votes)
Thank you so much Peter for your time and response. Can we say "I have seen two-headed snakes before(unfinished time reference, but in the past with a present experience), when I visited Vietnam"? Thank you, Regards, kingson

Hello kingsonselvaraj,

The problem with the sentence is that the phrase 'when I visited Vietnam' provides a finished time reference and so it cannot be used with the present perfect. The present perfect refers to an unfinished time, not a finished time. If you are no longer in Vietnam then that time period is complete and is not consistent with the present perfect.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very, very much Peter for your patience in answering my question. The reason why I am making a doubt around the combination of Past tense and present perfect is, I was told that the following sentence is gramatically correct. "My friend got married to the girl who has been working here in this office"(the girl is still working in the same office). In this above sentence "got married" is the past tense. But "has been working" is the present perfect(continuous). Please enlighten me in this regard. Please pardon me, if I give you too much trouble. I am a public speaker that's why I am trying to be crystal clear in my English grammar. Thank you again, Peter. Regards, kingson

Hello kingsonselvaraj,

The sentence 'My friend got married to the girl who has been working here in this office"(the girl is still working in the same office' is fine, because the present perfect phrase does not provide a time reference for the past simple action, but simply provides more information about the girl.


As an aside, I would say that the sentence is a little odd and the present perfect does not seem to add any information. A more natural way to phrase it would be to use the present simple (permanent work) or continuous (temporary): 'My friend got married to the girl is working/works here in this office"(the girl is still working in the same office.'



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much, Peter. That is really an eye opening fo me. Have you finished (present perfect) reading the book that I gave(past tense) you? - in this sentence, "I gave you" - is this providing more information about the book? Please clarify my doubt. I will be so grateful to you. I appreciate your service. Thank you, again. Regards, kingson

Hello Kingston,

That is correct. Well done!

The past tense gives us information about the book. Grammtically speaking, it is a restrictive or defining relative clause and has an adverbial function. It does not provide a time reference for the verb in the main clause.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much Peter. I really appreciate your patience and service. I am so indebted to you. Please enlighten me in the following. He has questioned her appointment after she broke (past tense) the rules. Could you please tell me what the past tense means here. Has it got any adverbial function or any time reference? Come and tell me after you have seen (Present perfect) her. What is the function of present perfect, here? "Are you the one, who was going to come or do we need to expect another"? Is "who was going to come" an adverbial function? I your previous post you combined the past tense with the present tense. Please see below. My friend got married to the girl is working/works here in this office"(the girl is still working in the same office). Has the later part "the girl is working or works here in this office" got an adverbial function? It has not got "who"(girl who is working or who works) in it. Is it still correct without the word "who"?

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

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


Hello kingson

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

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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