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 (94 votes)
Profile picture for user Peter M.

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

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj

Permalink

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.

 

Peter

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

Permalink

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auxiliary_verb#List_of_auxiliaries_in_English

 

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

https://grammarianism.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/mood-and-modality-what-is-the-difference/

 

Peter

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

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 00:37

Permalink
Dear Sir, Which is right to say? Once you had it, then you would start using it. or Once you had it, then you will start using it. Please enlighten me in this regard. Thank you, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 08:41

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj

Permalink

Hello kingson

The second one is not correct. The first is correct, but a little strange -- I would say 'if' instead of 'once'. With 'once', I would want to say 'Once you have it, you will start using it'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Wed, 08/01/2020 - 08:20

Permalink
Dear Sir, Which one of the following is correct? Please remember "We said yesterday that we have to do cooking this afternoon, today". or Please remember "We said yesterday that we had to do cooking this afternoon, today". Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 09/01/2020 - 06:22

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj

Permalink

Hello kingson

You might hear the first, but the second one is better.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Manar Ragheb on Sat, 04/01/2020 - 16:41

Permalink
dear sir , I'm very confused So, I would like to explain the difference between the past perfect and past simple in this example : James had cooked breakfast when we got up. James cooked breakfast when we got up. why in 1st sentence do we use past perfect and in 2nd only past simple ? Is it depend on the order of actions only ?

Hello Manar Ragheb,

There is a difference in meaning:

In the first sentence (had cooked) the cooking is finished before you got up.

In the second sentence (cooked) the cooking began when you got up.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team