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 (121 votes)

Hello Anna,

The first sentence is correct. I think we'd be more likely to say shot rather than had shot in the first part of the sentence, however, as there is no need to emphasise the connection between the two actions.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Praveen on Tue, 31/03/2020 - 16:19

Dear Peter, What is the difference between "they published" and "they were published" Thanks

Hello Praveen

'they published' is in the active voice and 'they were published' is in the passive voice. If you follow the link, I think the explanation on that page will clarify this for you, but if you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask us there.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Paula,

Yes, that's right. In that sentence she'd just is a contraction of she had just. It's a past perfect form because the action precedes and is relevant to another action in the past (not wanting another coffee).



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Tue, 17/03/2020 - 06:04

Hello Sir Please let me know whether this sentence is right or wrong. e.g. He was the most extra ordinary man I had ever seen in my life Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

The sentence is fine apart from one spelling issue: extraordinary should be one word, not two.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Tue, 24/03/2020 - 08:40

In reply to by Peter M.

Dear Peter, I just wanted to add a question to your answer. Can we put the sentence in the following way? "He was an extraordinary man that I have ever seen." Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Tue, 24/03/2020 - 12:39

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson

I'm afraid that's not correct. I'd recommend something like 'He was one of the most extraordinary man I've ever seen'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Tue, 11/02/2020 - 11:31

Dear Sir, Is it a necessity that the present tense has to be changed into a past tense in a reported speech. e.g. Direct: Tim said to Tom," John is at home" Indirect: Tim told Tom that John was at home. Direct: Tim said to Tom, "John was at home". Indirect: Tim told Tom that John had been at home. Are the above mentioned conversions (from direct to indirect) right? And one more thing............ Can we say the above mentioned statements without changing the tenses? e.g. Direct: Tim said to Tom," John is at home" Indirect: Tim told Tom that John is at home. (The present tense is not changed) Direct: Tim said to Tom, "John was at home". Tim told Tom that John was at home (Past tense is not changed) Thank you, Regards, kingson