Past perfect

Learn about the past perfect and do the exercises to practise using it.

Level: intermediate

The past perfect is made from the verb had and the past participle of a verb:

I had finished the work.
She had gone.

The past perfect continuous is made from had been and the -ing form of a verb:

had been working there for a year.
They had been painting the bedroom.

The past perfect is used in the same way as the present perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present. We use the past perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past:

When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

For this use, we often use the past perfect continuous:

She didn't want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.
Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.

  • for something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point:

He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.
He had written three books and he was working on another one.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past and is important at a later time in the past

I couldn't get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn't at home. She had gone shopping.

We often use expressions with for and since with the past perfect:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there for ten years
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.
 

We do not normally use the past perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the past perfect simple instead:

Up until that moment, I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in astrology.

Past perfect

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Past perfect and past simple

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Past perfect and hypotheses

We can also use the past perfect to make hypotheses about the past (when we imagine something). See these pages:

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Hello Anit Shrestha,

Both the past perfect (had lived) and the past simple (lived) are possible in this sentence.

However, if we use the past simple then we are describing two events which form a sequence and the reader or listener would understand that first she chose not to move and as a result spent her whole life in Liverpool.

If we use the past perfect then it is clear that the decision to not move comes after the act of living in the city. In other words we understand that she decided not to move because all her life up to that point had been in Liverpool, so she had an attachment to the city.

 

In other words, past simple + past simple here gives us two actions in sequence.

Past simple + past perfect makes it clear that the second action in the sentence happened before the first.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

-1

I was tired because I hadn't slept or didn't sleep.

I was exhausted because i did not sleep or had not slept a day before

I cried because my dad slapped or had slapped me.

I went to restaurant yesterday but could not order anything because I left or had left my wallet at home.

I woke up late because I forgot or had forgotten to set the alarm.

I woke up late and realized I overslept or had overslept.

What's the more correct and natural choice in every sentence?

Hi ROMY learner,

All these options are acceptable. From a grammatical point of view, the past perfect options are preferable. The past perfect's main meaning is that the past event occurred earlier than another past time or past event. If these were questions in a grammar test, I imagine that the past perfect would be considered the correct answer here. However, in real life usage, people often simplify the past perfect to the past simple, especially when the time relationship between the actions is already obvious from the context, or is specified by other words (e.g. "because" shows a cause, which logically must occur earlier than the result). 

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

HI,
Thanks for this answer but my doubts still remain about past perfect and past simple, and I have some questions this reply could be longer as I don't want to ask a lot of questions and I hope I get all answers.
1st question with word "Because" as you answered but I am still confused in the sentences like these.....
I was exhausted because I did not sleep a day before or had not slept a day before. what's the actual difference here? don't we use past simple when it's a specific time or day or with word "before"? what's more correct here and what's the difference?
I was hungry because I didn't eat or hadn't eaten. what's the difference here and are both correct?
I went to theatre yesterday but couldn't record a video because I left or had left my phone at home?
I was tired because I didn't sleep or hadn't slept (what's the difference here with no time used which one is more correct?
2nd question is with word "Realized" in sentence like these....
I woke up late and realized I overslept or had overslept. what's correct?
I came to home and realized someone stole or had stolen my wallet.
I bought clothes yesterday and while paying bill I realized I lost or had lost my wallet . same with the word found out. I woke up late and found out I overslept or had overslept?
3rd question I am also confused with the word before and until in past tenses such as..
I didn't see or hadn't seen this movie before you told me. what's the difference here there must be some difference?
I didn't hear or hadn't heard of this film before you told me about it.
I didn't hear or hadn't about this film until I watched it on tv?
I hadn't Heard
or didn't hear about this film 2 days ago .
My friend asked me to watch the film but i did not watch because I saw or had seen it 2 hours ago/before.
these are my all doubts and i hope you will answer me and clear it up I have been having hard time figuring out the difference between past simple or perfect in these sentences and with these 4,5 words, it would be really helpful if you could answer

Hello again ROMY learner,

Please note that while we try to help as much as we can it's not possible for us to provide answers to long lists of questions as we have many thousands of users on the site and are only a small team providing a free service. To fully answer this I'd need to not only indicate the correct form but also provide an explanation of what the context would be and how different contexts might change the choice of form, and that kind of long explanation is beyond what we can do in the comments here. This is really a question to sit down and discuss with your teacher.

I'll comment on two of the sentences to give you an idea of what I mean:

I cried because my dad slapped or had slapped me.

Both forms are possible here. If the crying immediately follows the slap (i.e. is a result of the pain or shock of the blow) then 'cried' is the best choice. If, on the other hand, the crying is later on and is the result of an emotional reaction to the trauma or grief of being slapped by someone who you expect to support you and love you, then 'had slapped' is better. As you can see, the choice is complex and dependent on how the speaker sees the situation and interprets it.

I woke up late and realized I overslept or had overslept.

Here, only the past perfect (had overslept) is possible. It's clear that the oversleeping precedes waking up and realising and that it leads to the realisation - there is a direct causal line here. The past simple ('overslept') would suggest a general statement - that oversleeping is a habit and I have only just realised I do it.

 

As you can see, perfect aspects are very much context-dependent rather than being expressions of black-and-white rules.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hey sir,
ok I understand but can you tell me about these sentences?
I was tired because I didn't sleep or Hadn't slept? what's the difference here and what should I use ?

Hello again ROMY learner,

If the sentence describes a single occasion (yesterday, last week etc) then we would use 'hadn't slept' here as the lack of sleeping is the direct cause of the tiredness. On the other hand if the sentence describes a state in the past (for many years, during my time working as a police officer etc) then the past simple (didn't sleep) would be used. Once again, context is key.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

the context is I want to give information the cause of me being tired that day
so i was tired and i want to give information why i was tired so what should i use there?

Hello again ROMY learner,

The answer is in the first line of the previous reply:

If the sentence describes a single occasion (yesterday, last week etc) then we would use 'hadn't slept' here as the lack of sleeping is the direct cause of the tiredness.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

what if i use before like:
he was tired because he didnt sleep or hadnt sleep a night before? and
I wasn't hungry because i ate or had eaten 2 hours before?
whats the difference here can i use past simple here or not?

Hello again ROMY learner,

Before makes the connection explicit - it tells the reader/listener that the earlier action has an effect on the later one, so the past perfect is more likely. You may find examples like this where the past simple is used but the past perfect is much more likely in my view.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by angeeeeeeel on Sun, 28/06/2020 - 12:04

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Hello, when do we use "I had never had" ?

Hello angeeeeeeel,

There are so many situations in which 'I had never had' could be used that I can't possibly describe them all, but I'll give you one example sentence:

'I had never had butter in my tea before I went to Tibet.'

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

What to use with word "Recently" in past?
I didn't buy that mobile because my brother recently gifted me or had recently gifted me?
What to use with word Recently if both Acton's is in past? Past simple or perfect?

Hello ROMY learner,

There's no fixed connection with a particular verb form and 'recently'. It entirely depends on the context. If the earlier action provides a relevant result (as in your example), then the a perfect form (here, past perfect) would be normal with or without the adverb 'recently'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you,
I had these doubt between past continuous and past perfect continuous

1a) He went through her phone and found out she'd been lying to him all the time.

1b) He went through her phone and found out she was lying to him all the time.

2a) My friend asked me to watch that film and made me realize what I'd been missing.

2b) My friend asked me to watch that film and made me realize what I was missing.

What's the difference here and what's more correct and natural?

Hi ROMY learner,

Using the past perfect (she'd been lying / what I'd been missing) indicates that the action occurred before or until the past simple action. It shows the actions as a time sequence (i.e. the past perfect action occurred first, and the past simple action second).

The past continuous actions (she was lying / what I was missing) may continue until or even after the time of the past simple action. For example, in 2a it seems that "missing" refers to the time before or until watching the film. That meaning is also possible for 2b, but 2b could also mean that the speaker was still missing something even after watching the film (i.e., the "missing" was not necessarily over, unlike in 2a). Depending on the situation, this difference may be unimportant, though, and both structures could be possible.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

so, if I say, "She had been" it means when i found out she had stopped lying and if I use "She was" it means when i found out she was still lying to me it's kind of confused that's one more example to clear this out.
1)I couldn't go to school because he was/had been working all night.

Hi ROMY learner,

That's right about "She had been lying". But as I mentioned in my previous comment, the past continuous action may continue (1) until the past simple action, or (2) after it. The past continuous does not specify when the action finished (unlike the past perfect, which shows that the action occurred before or until another past action or time).

This example is similar. If you say "he had been working all night", it means at the time of going to school (presumably in the morning), he was no longer working. So, the reason for not going to school was that (presumably) he was too tired after working to take the speaker to school.

If you say "he was working all night", it could mean:

  1. The same as above (i.e. had already finished work but he was too tired to take the speaker to school.)
  2. His work time was the same as the time of going to school, so he could not take the speaker there. For example, the speaker needs to go to school during the night, for some reason, but he is working at that time.

If I may suggest, it may help to know that grammatical structures sometimes have multiple meanings rather than just one, and also that when searching for differences in meaning between two different structures, it's important to consider that some of their meanings can be the same. In real life language usage, speakers and listeners don't only use their grammatical knowledge but also their general knowledge of what is logical in this situation in order to understand meanings (e.g. whether the speaker intends meaning 1 or 2 above). However, when analysing individual sentences, we have no context here to help us understand, so it's not always easy or possible to determine exact meanings. It might be useful for you to look for examples of these structures in longer texts, as these may have clearer meanings.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lexeus on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 20:00

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Starting at Ban Pong and crossing the bridge on the river Kwai in Kanchanaburi, the railway line had once snaked its way through two hundred and fifty miles of dense jungle to the town of Thanbyuzayat in Burma. Hi Team Could you help me with the sentence that I’ve posted? I have read that the past perfect tense goes with the simple past tense. Is that always the case? I think my sentence uses the past perfect (had once snaked) with a participle clause (or phrase, I’m not sure which). Firstly, is it a grammatically correct sentence? Secondly, is it grammatically acceptable to split ‘had snaked’ with ‘once’? (As in ‘had once snaked’) Thank you so much for your help. Lexeus

Hello Lexeus,

It's perfectly fine to put an adverb (once) between the auxilliary verb (had) and the past participle (snaked).

As far as the use of the past perfect in your example goes, it requires a past time reference point, but this may be included in the broader context in which the sentence appears. The use of the past perfect implies that the situation later (but still in the past) changed.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dukul on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 13:28

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What is the difference in meaning between these following sentences: 1. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had. 2. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I ever had. 3. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I have ever had.

Hello Dukul,

All of the sentences are grammatically possible. The first sentence suggests that the birthday was the worst day then, but may have since been superseded by something even worse. The second sentence tells us that the birthday is still the worst day and suggests that that fact will never change. The third sentence is similar to the second, but suggests that a worse day may still come along at some point.

 

In general, the choice of verb forms like this to use depends on the context in which you are going to use it and what you want to say. Is the sentence part of a narrative? Is it direct speech? Are there other events which form a context for the sentence?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by stoopid__pollack on Fri, 15/05/2020 - 22:26

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Hello, could anyone please explain to me which grammatical rule (or rules) warrants the use of the past simple tense after 'since' in the sentence used in the explanatory section above: I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode. Isn't the action of starting the programme earlier than my watching it. Why then the earlier action is expressed in the Past Simple and the action following it in the Past Perfect. This issue has been bothering me for some time now, and I sieved through some of my old grammar books and came across some other instances of this tense use, here they are: * We hardly recognized each other, because we hadn't met since we were young.(B.D. Graver. "Advanced English Practice. Oxford U. Press. 1990. page 85") * We all knew he had been drinking heavily since his wife died. (op. cit.) * He had been a soldier, since he was seventeen, and planned to stay in the army. (A.J. Thomson, A.V. Martinet. A Practical English Grammar, Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, 2001. page 175) I also found a sentence which, I would say, is more along the lines of what I believe or imagine I know about the use of the Past Perfect: * His father had died four years before and since then Tom had lived alone. (Thomson, Martinet. p.176) By the way, can this sentence be transformed into the following one: "Tom had lived alone since his father died." I would like to know why the Past Simple is used in the above clauses after "since". The coursebooks I cited only mention that such a tenses sequence is possible with "for" and "since" and they don't delve deeper into the matter. Is it some kind of a language praxis? Why is the Past Simple use after "since" not in violation of the rule that the earlier actions are expressed in the Past Perfect, as this what I imagine is the case with the word "since", which underscores an action earlier in time? Sorry for all the mistakes I probably made. Thank you in advance for all the responses and explanations. Have a nice day.
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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 23:07

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Hello. Could you please help me? In the following sentence, can we use the past simple, the past perfect or both? Is there a difference? - Jane was not as good as her friends as she (had come - came) from a poorer family. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The past simple is the best option here as the verb does not describe a particular action but rather a permanent fact about Jane - something which will always be true and for which we would use the present simple normally, or the past simple in a narrative.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anubhav on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:20

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Could anyone help me with the prepositions, which one is correct ..i am going to the wedding or i am going for the wedding.

Hello Anubhav,

When we are going as a guest or to participate in the ceremony, we say 'to the wedding'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Parva on Mon, 25/11/2019 - 10:02

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What is the past perfect tense of ,"What shall we do?"

Hello Parva,

'Shall' is a modal verb and does not have a past perfect form. The perfect form of the modal would be 'should have', as in 'What should we have done?' but whether or not this is appropriate would depend on the context in which it is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anubhav on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 10:24

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My question is related to the usage of "have had" , would it be correct to say -As if you could'nt be any taller, you have had to wear heels too Or would you rather say "you had to wear heels too". The above statement is a present scenario . Thanks

Hello Anubhav,

The correct form here would be ...you had to...

The meaning of had to here is similar to 'you chose to' or 'you insisted on' rather than expressing obligation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks .. I get it now .. Could you also explain in what scenarios one would you "have had to" instead of have to

Hello again Anubhav,

I can't think of a context in which 'As if...' would be followed by '...would have had to...'

We use [would have + VERB3] for hypothetical/unreal situations, but 'as if' is not used to introduce conditional forms. We use 'as if' in the same way as 'as though': to show not a condition followed by a result, but rather the ironic surprise of the speaker at something they consider unnecessary or exaggerated.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

My bad .. what i meant to ask was what's the meaning of "have had to" like in following sentences and what is the general usage of "have had to" 1.Market organizers have had to be creative. ...... Here why can't i say have to be creative 2.Blackpool’s Liam Feeney admits they have had to find different ways of winning.... why not they have to Thanks a lot

Hello Anubhav

'would have had' and 'have had' are not the same. 'have had' is the present perfect of 'have'. The present perfect and present forms have very similar meanings -- please see the Present tense section of our grammar reference and its different subpages for an explanation of the differences in meaning.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by stanraw88 on Mon, 07/10/2019 - 03:19

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Hello - so would this sentence be correct then: "I had skipped breakfast, which made me so hungry" ?

Hello stanraw88

The verb forms in the sentence you ask about are grammatically correct, though without knowing what the context is, I can't really say whether they are correct for the situation.

People often use 'so' in this way in informal speaking, but I would recommend changing it to something like 'really' instead.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dayan on Sun, 06/10/2019 - 10:25

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I have a real problem to understand the use of before followed by the past perfect as in She bought a new car before she had sold the old one. By couldn't bought be a past perfect if it is the action that happened first?

Hello Dayan

You could indeed say 'She had bought a new car before she sold the old one' and the use of the past perfect for 'buy' in this way makes more sense to me too. I'm afraid I can't explain the sentence that you ask about without knowing more about the context it was written in -- sorry!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 19/09/2019 - 20:42

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Hello. Can I use either "got" or "had got" or both in the following sentence? - After I had got to the stadium, I realized that the match had already started. I think we can't use "had got" as there is another past perfect "had started" Thank you

Hello Ahmed,

You can use 'had got'. This is not because there is another past perfect, but rather because the action of arriving at (get to) the stadium comes before another action in the past (realise).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 23/08/2019 - 19:40

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Hello. Is it correct to use the past perfect tense to express past habits like in the following sentence? - I had always arranged my things before I went to bed. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that is correct as long as the habit is no longer true: I had always... but now I don't worry about that sort of thing.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

so, what is the difference between the two sentences? - I had always arranged my things before I went to bed. - I always arranged my things before I went to bed. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The first sentence (had always) would be used as part of a narrative, in which the speaker/writer is describing how things were before another time in the past, after which they were different. For example:

When I went to university I became a very messy person. I had always arranged my things before I went to bed, but at university I started leaving them all over the floor...

 

The second sentence simply describes the past. It does not suggest this comes before any other action in the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AfnanAlAhmad on Sat, 10/08/2019 - 19:20

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Thank you for your explanation for this example: She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life. why you didn't use the present perfect? I can't understand where is the past tine here

Submitted by Amit12148 on Wed, 07/08/2019 - 10:19

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Can we use ago" With past perfect tense If yes give me some examples

Hello Amit12148

By far the most common tense used with 'ago' is the past simple, but it is possible (though relatively rare) to use it with the past perfect. For example:

Three years ago, I had already moved to Spain.

Instead, we commonly use 'earlier' or 'prior' when the point of time is in the past, e.g. 'He had moved to Spain six years earlier'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wolfie95 on Wed, 31/07/2019 - 07:24

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Hello when I had arrive, my father was watching TV. is it true ?