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. Could you help me with one more sentence? Which variant is correct? He practised his grammar for 2 hours yesterday. Or He had been practising his grammar for 2 hours yesterday. Past Simple or Past Perfect Continous Thanks for your help.
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Mon, 27/01/2020 - 07:42

In reply to by _princess_


Hello _princess_

As with the other sentences you asked about, it really depends on the context. Without any context or statement after it (e.g. 'He'd been practising grammar for two hours when his teacher told him he needed to study vocabulary'), the second one would be quite strange. The the first one, on the other hand, could make sense in many different situations.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Thu, 23/01/2020 - 10:56

Dear Sir, "If you would only give us more proof, we would believe" Is the word "would" (in both places) a modal verb or is it a past tense of "will"? And............ Can we use would on both part of this sentence ("if" clause and the following clause)? Please enlighten me in this regard. Thank you, kingson
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 24/01/2020 - 08:14

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

Normally, we do not use modal verbs in both halves of a conditional sentence, but it is possible when we want to make the condition more tentative. In this case, the sense of 'If you would only give us...' is 'If you were willing to give us...

You can see this used sometimes to add politeness:

If you will come this way, sir I'll see you to your seat. (= If you don't mind coming...)


'Would' is the past form (used to show an unreal or unlikely action or event) of 'will', but that does not mean it is not a modal verb. In this case, it is both.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, Thank you so much for your time and patience to answer my question. Regards, kingson
Dear Peter, Please enlighten me in the construction of the following setences. "If elected, I will stand for justice" "if elected, I would stand for justice" Which is right ? and Why? In the first sentence - is "will" an ancillary verb? or a modal ? or both? In the second sentence - is "would" an ancillary verb? or a modal ? or both? Which sentence implies more politeness? Please enlighten me in this regard. Regards, Thank you, kingson
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 04/02/2020 - 08:14

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

Both sentences are possible. The verb form in the first clause is passive and the auxiliary verb is omitted, which means we do not know if it is a present simple passive or a past simple passive. That is why both will and would are possible:

If I am elected, I will stand for justice.

If I were elected, I would stand for justice.

The first sentences describes a likely or plausible condition and its result. The second sentence describes a condition which the speaker sees as unlikely or impossible.

Both will and would are modal verbs.

The difference between the sentences is one of plausibility or likelihood, not politeness.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, You have given me an exemplary answer. I have another question to ask you. Why the "will" can not be an ancillary verb in the first sentence? I think it comes under an "indicative mood". So under this circumstance can I call it (will) as an ancillary verb? And Would you be able to give me an example of one or two sentences which can have "will" and "would" as both verbs(ancillary and modal), please? I am being so annoyance to you by aksing too many questions. But my intention is to learn English clearly. Thank you for your help. Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 06/02/2020 - 07:37

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

Modal verbs are one kind of auxiliary verb, which is what I think you mean by 'ancilliary verb'. You can see a list of auxiliary verbs in English here:


You can read about the three moods in English (indicative, subjunctive and imperative), as well about how modal verbs relate to the topic, here:



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, Thank you for answering me. Your answer and the links you provided me, took me to a completely different world of English grammar. Thanks again. I am still learning. Regards, kingson