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 (122 votes)

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Yes, that is grammatically possible. The sentence is describing a feeling or an impression rather than something concrete in the world, so there's a lot of ambiguity in terms of what it is supposed to mean.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kyawkyawsoezhu on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 09:59

Can I change this sentence "We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain." to 'Past perfect with before' with this sentence "We drank/finished all the water before we had arrived at the top of the mountain."

Hello kyawkyawsoezhu,

You could use either the past perfect (we had finished) or the past simple (we finished) here. The past simple shows a sequence of actions; the past perfect connects the actions in some way, emphasising that the earlier action had some kind of influence or effect on the later action.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 12:19

Dear Team, Is the following sentence correct? "I have been noticing (present perfect continuous) your progress and found out (past tense) that you have done well (present perfect tense)." Can we use present perfect continuous, past and present perfect in a single sentence like this? Please enlighten me in this regard. Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 16:17

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

It is possible to use the tenses you mention in the same sentence, though of course they can mean different things. I'm not sure what the exact situation and meaning you intend here are, but if I am imagining them correctly, I'd recommend something like 'You have done well and I have noticed your progress' (if that sounds appropriate to you).

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk, I am just writing a little story for some people at my place. That's why I am just caught up by the doubt. I always understand that the tenses we use in a sentence should go along. Say for an example, in a reported speech we say "John told (past) me that Sam bought (past) a book." (in the direct speech - John said to me, "Sam buys a book.") . Here we are changing the present tense (buys) into past tense (bought), because it is reported (said to - told) in the past. So why cannot we do that in all other circumstances? In this example, we start with present perfect continuous (I have been noticing) and we shift to past (found out) and finish with present perfect (have done). My question here is - Can we mix tenses like this? If so.. why we are not doing it (mixing the tenses) in the reported speech? I also know that in the relative clause, subordinate clause and the dependent clause, the tenses can be changed. And I also know that some of the adverbial sentences can have a mix of tenses. So please explain to me in this example (I have been noticing you ..........) how we can mix the tenses? Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 13/09/2020 - 14:00

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

Your sentence 'I have been noticing your progress and found out that you have done well' still sounds a little strange to me because it's not clear to me what you mean. For example, 'have been noticing' implies you started this noticing in the past and are still doing it now, but then 'found out' implies you only discovered progress in the past, yet then the sentence goes on to a present perfect reference, which implies they did well recently -- but is it after the time you stopped finding out? I was imagining a teacher praising their students for their continual progress and so the past simple threw me off. But maybe I've misunderstood?

Without knowing the situation you are describing and what exactly you want to say, it's really difficult to give feedback about verb tenses, since there's quite a range of possible uses and meanings for each. We'll still do our best to help as we have time to do so here, but if you are able to get help from a teacher you can speak with, I think you'd find it much easier.

I hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much, Kirk for your concerning answer. Yes, I cannot explain the whole situation, because it will take much time for you to read it. So as you said it will be good idea to consult with a teacher. I have lot of similar doubts to ask. So please let me know, if you have a program that I can engage with, so that I can talk/chat to a teacher. I have already noticed that there is a course for 5.99 pounds per month in your company. Will that be a useful course for me? please guide me in this line. Thank you, Regards, kingson

Hi kingson,

Our self-access courses, which are available to our subscribers and cost £5.99 per month, are not led by teachers and at least for now, there is nowhere to ask questions in them. So I wouldn't recommend that for this particular purpose.

The British Council English Online courses are online group classes led by teachers. You would be able to ask short questions in such a class, but I'm not sure you'd be able to ask long ones. They are also more expensive.

You can also get one-on-one help from a tutor. The first session costs £1, but I'm afraid I don't know how long it is or how much they cost after that.

You might be able to find an English teacher near where you live whom you could work with -- that would probably be the surest way to get the kind of help you are looking for.

Hope this helps.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team


Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Tue, 01/09/2020 - 13:39

Dear Team, Can we frame the sentences as follows. "I thought (past tense) that you might have gone (past future perfect) to the movie that I saw (past tense) last week." "I thought (past tense) that you might have thought (past future perfect) that John is (present tense) a wonderful person to approach." Please let me know whether the above sentences are correct or not and why. Thank you, Regards, kingson