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 (126 votes)

Submitted by Sevi Shinta on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 02:39

Dear sir, Are these sentences correct? You: "Yes. They were under the cupboard." Indirect: I answered that they had under the cupboard.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 08/05/2020 - 07:28

In reply to by Sevi Shinta


Hello Sevi Shinta,

The second sentence is not correct. You need to use a form of the verb be, not only had. In this context, we would not change the tense of the verb, so the correct sentence would be:

I answered that they were under the cupboard.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 08:14

Dear Sir, The following sentence has got present perfect and past perfect. Can this (past and present perfects coming together) happen in the same sentence? "He has done it for the first time in almost five years, according to the University documents, following speculation that he had been searching for evidences." Thank you, Regards, kingson
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 14:24

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson

Yes, it is possible -- the verb forms in the sentence you cite have no grammatical errors. 'evidences' is not correct, however: it is an uncount noun.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 03:20

Dear Teacher, Hello. Is the use of the present perfect tense correct in the following sentences: 1. Tom who had already died in 1940 is presented as the king of Zupata during the famine of the 1920s. This story is anachronistic. 2. Some of them refer to the event as an early ‘war’ for the tribe's independence from the foreign rule since the right to collect tax had been given to the foreign Company after the Battle of Jejury in 1846. Thanks. Raj

Hello Raj,

Your examples use the past perfect, not the present perfect.

The second example looks fine. The first example does not make sense. We use the past perfect to describe actions in the past which happened before another action in the past. In your second example the sequence is reversed: 1940 is after the 1920s, not before.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sun, 19/04/2020 - 07:34

In reply to by Peter M.

Dear Peter, I am sorry. It was a typo; I meant 'past perfect tense'. The first sentence is a comment on a historical novel. Does it make any sense in this context? As regards the second sentence, is the sequence important? In other words, does 'which time comes first in a sentence' play a significant role? Thanks. Raj
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 20/04/2020 - 07:01

In reply to by raj.kumar123


Hello Raj,

As it is written, the first example does not appear logical. It may be that in context there is another past time reference point, but we cannot see this in the sentence.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Tue, 21/04/2020 - 05:20

In reply to by Peter M.

Dear Peter M, Thanks for your guidance. Raj

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