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)
Hello Peter, Thank you for the reply. I found the explanation given in the link very useful. Thanks again for all what you do in this forum to help learners. All the best Donald

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 17:46

Dear Sir, Can we use the following question when a particular work has not been finished(present perfect) yet. "I thought(It's only my thinking in the past and realizes in the present that the work has not been finished) he had finished the work(past perfect)". Thank you, Regards, kingson
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Wed, 27/11/2019 - 07:48

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson

'I thought he had finished the work' is grammatically correct. With this sentence, you are expressing your own thinking about the work being finished -- it is irrelevant whether the work is actually finished or not.

Does that answer your question? If not, could you please rephrase it, as I'm not sure I've understood it completely.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lexeus on Sat, 09/11/2019 - 02:42

Hi Team, Once we have established that we are using the past perfect tense, would it be grammatically correct, to avoid being repetitive, to follow it with the past simple tense, even though we are still talking about the same incident? for example: Tom recalled how Sally had told him of the excitement she felt when she visited the zoo and saw the animals. or does everything have to remain in the past perfect tense? Tom recalled how Sally had told him of the excitement she had felt when she had visited the zoo and had seen the animals. Thanks for your help, Lexeus
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 10/11/2019 - 08:34

In reply to by lexeus


Hello Lexeus,

The first sentence is fine. There is no need to express everything in the past perfect, and it makes the sentence very clunky.

The past perfect in your example only expresses one relationship: looking back on the act of telling from the perspective of the moment of recall. The rest is not directly linked. In other words, Tom recalls the telling, not the feeling, the visiting or the seeing.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter, that has made things a lot clearer for me. Lexeus.
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Submitted by koosha on Thu, 07/11/2019 - 06:47

The exercises are perfect and useful but if it exists more exercise should be better for me...

Submitted by govegan on Tue, 01/10/2019 - 02:07

PLEASE, change the example with the cat because it's very offensive. Who can put a cat in a washing machine? It's CRUELTY and I am sure it's a very painful and awful death, murder by the way. Something like that doesn't happen unintentionally. This kind of example is very bad and here is a website for education and not for learn types of kill someone. I am sorry about my message but I had studied here when I just read this and it's shocked me.

Hello govegan

We are currently revising the Intermediate grammar section and this page will be changing quite soon. It's difficult to speculate on the intentions of the people involved and although it's more likely than not that washing the cat was unintentional, I agree that the sentence shows poor taste and so I have changed it. Thanks very much for pointing it out to us and I'm sorry about that.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sun, 29/09/2019 - 12:06

Dear Sir, Which is right? The medium of instruction was (The medium of instruction is still in English) in English, when he was a student in the University. (If we use "was" - will that deny the current reality?) Or The The medium of instruction is (The medium of instruction is still in English) in English, when he was a student in the University. Thank you, Regards, kingson