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 (118 votes)

Submitted by Rg42o on Thu, 16/04/2020 - 14:47

Dear sir, Would you please tell me if the following sentence is correct? by the time he finished giving the lecture, he had made such a lasting impression on me that i vowed to become a teacher like him. Appreciatively, Reza
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 06:56

In reply to by Rg42o


Hello Reza,

Yes, that sentence is perfectly fine. Well done!



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 10/04/2020 - 14:10

Dear Sir, Is the following sentence correct? I am glad (simple present) to know how easily the early historians had understood (past perfect) this concept in the third century A.D. I have one more question. "John is our lawyer, who advocated for us and now (is) teaching law courses." Do we need to use the "is" - within brackets - in this sentence? Please help me in this regard, Thank you, kingson
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 07:49

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

Unless there is a second past time reference point in another sentence in the wider context, there is no need to use the past perfect in the first sentence. A past simple is fine:

I am glad to know how easily the early historians understood this concept in the third century A.D.


In your second sentence is is required. We would usually put now after it:

John is our lawyer, who advocated for us and is now teaching law courses.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by 83roman on Wed, 08/04/2020 - 17:40

Helo, Could you tell please, what is the meaning of next sentence from the test 2: She didn't feel like another coffee as she ___ one.
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 09/04/2020 - 12:47

In reply to by 83roman


'she'd just had one' is a shorter way of saying 'she had just had one'. Here the verb 'have' is used in two different ways. The first 'had' ('she had just had one') is the auxiliary verb 'have' in the past tense, which is the first part of a past perfect verb.

The second 'had' ('she had just had one') is the past participle of the main verb 'have', which here means 'to consume', that is, 'to drink'. I believe that in Italian you would say 'prendere un caffè' for 'have a coffee' here.

Does that make sense?

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anna from germany on Wed, 01/04/2020 - 08:24

Dear British Council Team, could you help me to correct this sentence? After I had shot the ball over the goal, I never saw it again. Or After I had shot the ball over the goal, I have never seen it again. Is both correct? Thank you a lot! Anna

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