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)
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 07/06/2020 - 14:19

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson

It's true that a continuous verb form can be used to show that an action is temporary, but it's not true that all continuous verb forms mean this. In other words, in the appropriate context, your sentence could be talking about a temporary condition, but in other contexts it could have another one of the meanings on the page I linked to earlier.

I'm afraid that the first sentence in your first comment is not correct. In many languages (such as Spanish), it's correct to use a present continuous verb form to refer to an action that began in the past, but in English, the correct form for this kind of situation is the present perfect continuous.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Wow, that's great, Kirk. I have learnt new things on "continuous form from the link you sent me. Thank you for that. Regards, kingson

Submitted by Swati on Wed, 03/06/2020 - 18:02

Sir, I have using this app and trying to improve my English. Today I drafted a letter by myself. Could you plz check and suggest me where I am wrong. Please help me. Respected Sir, I am x working as a assistant in your company Since May 2015. I am writing this letter to bring in your notice that my salary was deducted twice in the past. Initially, it was deducted for 3 and 1/2 days in the month of December 2014. I had checked my past record and didn't find any correspondence which stated that I actually took enough CL in the year 2015. Secondly, My salary was deducted for 4 days in the month of November 2017. On that year I had taken all my CL and applied for medical leave as I was 2 and a half months pregnant. I have miscarriages history so for me and my child wellbeing I preferred hospital near to my in-law's place as I stayed here alone. I submitted my application according to Y Sir but I didn't get any receiving of that letter. This system of giving receiving on-letter was started recently by Mr Z, personal assistant. So I don't have any valid proof in this regard. When it was done, I questioned Mr x Sir and he said he will sort out the matter but it didn't happen. My current senior official knows about this rue and they are ready for giving their statement on the same. I hope I will get justice because I dedicated my whole potential and energy to this organization for the completion of any last-minute work. I know my seniors never deny how hard I worked here. I am attaching below my pregnancy checked reports. It's my kind request to look into this matter and approve the salary which was deducted in the past. I will be always grateful to you and it will inspire me to work beyond my capacity. Thanks and Regards

Hello Swati,

I'm afraid we don't provide a correction service on LearnEnglish. We're a small team here and we have thousands of users on the site. We're happy to provide explanations of particular language points but it's just not possible for us to correct texts like this.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply. You people are doing amazing work.

Submitted by Henok17 on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 11:59

In our book(CUTTING EDGE) an example has been written as We had been in Cairo for two months / since august. I think this sentence is incorrect .

Hello Henok17

That sentence can be correct in certain situations. I'd recommend you ask your teacher about it; I expect they can help you understand how that sentence can be correct.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user OlaIELTS

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 19:14

It's really great.

Submitted by raj.kumar123 on Sat, 09/05/2020 - 10:11

Dear Teacher, Hello. Is the following sentence grammatically correct: "The novelist must have realized that history would ultimately reveal that the queen had actively participated in the rebellion as an ally, not foe." Can Grammatical structures "Must have realized" + "would" + "Past perfect tense" be used in one sentence in the sequence given above? Thanks. Raj

Hello Raj,

Yes, the sentence is perfectly grammatical.



The LearnEnglish Team