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?

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 with before

We can also use the past perfect followed by before 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.

Adverbs

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

 

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Submitted by bnpl on Fri, 08/05/2015 - 12:04

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I’d like to ask something about “Question Tags”. Are the following tags correct? If not, pls kindly tell me the right answers with explanations. Thanks in advance. 1) We needn’t take part in the contest, need we? 2) I wish to buy a new piano, may I? 3) She wishes she can have a new dress, may she? 4) One must never desert one’s friends, must they? 5) Nothing will ever change my dad’s mind, will it? 6) Neither A nor B will help us, will they? 7) I think she will help you, won’t she? 8) None of us will fail the test, shall we? 9) Let me help, will you? 10) Everyone in this class may be the champion, mayn’t they? 11) David ought to study harder, oughtn’t he? 12) Little information was available, was it? 13) What a great movie, isn’t it?

Hello bnpl,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm afraid we don't do users homework. Have you looked at our question tags page? There you can find an explanation with an exercise, which should help you be more confident of your understanding.

If there are a few questions you are particularly unsure, please feel free to ask us about them, but we don't review long lists of sentences like this - better for you to do that on your own.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bnpl on Fri, 08/05/2015 - 11:23

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Hi, everyone! I’m a new member here. I’ve wanted to improve my English. Hope that I can get help from anyone of you. Thanks a lot in advance.

Submitted by gabiirosa on Mon, 04/05/2015 - 17:23

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Hi! I have a question, hope you can help me. If I say "these are the pictures I had taken during my year in Canada" for example, is this correct? Why? I mean, this phrase should not have two verbs (one as Past Perfect and one as Simple Past) to be correct? I saw this phrase at some webpage and now I'm wondering if it's right. thanks!

Hi gabiirosa,

I'm afraid this depends on the context. It could be an example of 'causative have' - you 'had the pictures taken' by someone else, who you paid to do it. It could be part of a broader context in which the year in Canada is an earlier past time, referenced in that context. Or it could be a mistake and the past simple may be a better alternative. It really is not possible to say for sure from just the sentence in isolation.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafael darn on Sun, 12/04/2015 - 14:45

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Can someone clarify this I read an article and I have a doubt about its grammar because the title is (did you know) Why it can be do you know because it's present tense (why past tense is used) If it's correct can I use did you know in every conversation/writing If it's wrong, please clarify do you know vs did you know

Hello Rafael darn,

We use 'did you know' to ask about the past, and 'do you know' to ask about the present.

Did you know John when you were a student? [The speaker knows that I know John now; he is asking about the past]

Do you know John? [The speaker is asking about the present - about now]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafael darn on Sat, 11/04/2015 - 16:14

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Hey guys I want to ask a question about fluency in English My friend is pretty darn good at English and he really is fluent whenever he has a coversation with people(not infront of crowd just like casual conversation with anyone). everyone likes him because he can converse in English well even my English teachers always praise him how good he speaks English (almost like the native level) but I don't think he's fluent enough because everytime he gives a speech spontaneously in front of crowd his English is really terrible especially his grammar (happens during giving a speech/talk only). Sometimes I am doubting him because during speech/talk time only I can see his English is a disaster really terrible disorganized words Then I ask him the reason he can't speak English very well during speech in front of unknown people but can speak very well with anyone ( He hardly makes a mistake) he encounters. Then he says he's nervous in front of a lot of people and it makes his brain mentally blank, he doesn't know what to say like completely blank no ideas to talk spontaneously. Guys out there is he weird because in my opinion if one is really fluent in English surely can speak in front crowd. If Nervous is the problem how can I help him because he is my friend.

Submitted by Rafael darn on Sat, 11/04/2015 - 15:49

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hello english teachers out there Can you explain to me about : This kind/type of thing This kind/type of things These kinds/types of thing These kinds/types of things Do we say this kind of person or kind of people? 2. A lot of people vs a lot person A lot of man vs a lot men Usually after a lot of we use plural form is it correct

Hello Rafael,

First of all, please note that this general topic is covered on our quantifiers page - please be sure to have a look. When 'kind' or 'type' is singular, you should say 'this'; when you use 'kinds' or 'types' (plural), you should say 'these'. What comes after 'of' is most often singular or plural depending on what you mean.

'a lot of' is used with plural count nouns or uncount nouns, but not with singular count nouns. Therefore 'a lot of man' is not generally correct (only when 'man' is used as an uncount noun, which is rare) and 'a lot of person' is not correct. Note that 'a lot men' is not correct, either - the 'of' is necessary: 'a lot of men'.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manobhazarika on Sat, 11/04/2015 - 09:05

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Would anyone please confirm the correctness of this sentence: "When his father had dissuaded him from buying that property--if he had listened to his father then, he would not have landed in trouble today." My point is that--are we allowed to use the past perfect tense twice consecutively in any sentence? Answer from a native speaker is welcome.

Hello manobhazarika,

It is certainly possible to use two past perfects in the same sentence, but the one you ask about is unnatural. The past perfect 'had dissuaded' could make sense given a certain context, but unless there is some other point in time it is related to, a past simple form would probably make more sense here. Note that the past perfect 'had listened' is part of a third conditional and so has a different time reference than a normal past perfect form.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by suatneo on Wed, 08/04/2015 - 16:04

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When the bell has just rang, I finished my dinner. The house had been built around 100 AD. Also do resend the invoice to me Are these sentences correct grammatically?

Hello suatneo,

In order, the sentences are incorrect, correct and correct. However, whether the correct ones are be appropriate or not depends on the context in which they are used.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by asma kanwal on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 16:03

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thank you sir.. and can you suggest me which dictionary is much better for improving english language?

Hello asma,

I'm afraid we can't recommend dictionaries, but please note that there is a very good dictionary with a handy searchbox here on-site: the Cambridge Dictionaries Online on the lower right of each page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by asma kanwal on Mon, 16/03/2015 - 13:12

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hi sir.. i want to ask you the difference between "for and to" for example this line. come to office to ask anything or come to office for ask anything. which sentence is right in both of them and why?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 08:20

In reply to by asma kanwal

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Hello asma,

Only the sentence with 'to' is correct here. 'to' and 'for' can both be used to talk about purpose, but are used in different and very diverse ways. 'to' is used as part of an infinitive, whereas 'for' is a preposition and therefore any verb that follows it must go in the -ing form. I'd suggest you look up both words in the dictionary and read through the explanations and examples there.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tanuja ns on Thu, 12/03/2015 - 12:41

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Sir, Can you please tell me the below sentence is correct? i.e., " When I woke up this morning ,My father had been singing in the kitchen?"

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 13/03/2015 - 07:40

In reply to by tanuja ns

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Hi tanuja,

More generally, this sentence would probably be 'When I woke up this morning, my father was singing in the kitchen.' Your sentence could be correct, but it implies that he started singing before you woke up; this sentence would be used if that fact were significant in some way, but this is unclear without the context.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by CORCA BAIDY FALL on Sun, 14/12/2014 - 21:23

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Tank you sir i have problem in the pronouciation and writting and i d'ont know some words

Hello Corca,

For pronunciation, it's important to listen to good models and then to imitate them. Most of our materials in Listen & Watch have materials with recordings and transcripts. Try listening with the transcript (listening and reading). Then try saying the text yourself, and practise it until you pronounce it as closely to the recording as you can.

For writing, you should get feedback from a teacher or knowledgeable friend on your writing. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources to give users individualised feedback on their writing, but you can still use LearnEnglish to do some work on your own.  You can respond to other users in the comment sections to carry on a written conversation, just as I am responding to you now. Good writers learn from reading other writers' texts, so you could learn a lot about writing from reading the content on the site. Our Magazine could be a good place to start if this interests you, and reading will also help you with your vocabulary, i.e. learning more words.

Finally, please note that there is a handy dictionary search box on the lower right side of this page under Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sanjay mandaviya on Sun, 14/12/2014 - 17:30

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I just have seen the new activity here which was really amezing , I am going to read out some new topics here , but I just want to tell you about my experiance , this has been really good for me to improve English , I really did not get much ideas when I joined it , but now , I have lots off things and I am able to understand what you 're trying to say , it can not have been possible without it , again I would be thank full you too ! I have been member of it since a year ,

Hello sanjay,

Thanks very much for your comment! It's always great to know when people find LearnEnglish useful - that's what we're here for.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by CORCA BAIDY FALL on Fri, 12/12/2014 - 19:08

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hello friends my name is corca baidy fall and i live in Senegal.I'am a new come and i have got my bacclaureat in this years and now i'am following english in univercity and my level is not better.Can you help memy friends

Hello CORCA BAIDY FALL,

Can you be a little more precise? What exactly do you need or want to practise? What areas of English do you need to improve?

Remember, the more concrete you can be, the more we will be able to help you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Tank you sir i have problem in the pronouciation and writting and i d'ont know some words

Hello Corca,

I already answered this question above - I thought I'd just point this out in case you missed it.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jo lc on Thu, 11/12/2014 - 23:49

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hi there! I,m new in this amazing website and i´m glad by this one. by the way, i would like to know if i can download the videos of word on the street.

Hello jo lc,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm glad to hear you like the site and I hope we can help you to improve your English.

I'm afraid the videos of Word on the Street are not available for download, for legal and technical reasons. However, you can download the transcripts for each episode and you can access them online as often as you wish.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amir G on Wed, 10/12/2014 - 15:44

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Hello kirk, I sometimes get confused with past perfect tense and present perfect tense. Did you have food vs Have you had food. Did you go to a doctor vs Have you been to a doctor. Could you please tell me which one to be used when like in what situations ? Thanks in advance.

Submitted by MONAD ABBASI on Sat, 25/10/2014 - 13:56

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I'm a beginner and I'm learning english I'm little bit confused pas perfet tense normally we used had been but I'm which condition we use had been and third form if verb.. Example you'd been invited as well ?? Can u clear me this tense

Hello Monad Abbasi,

'had been' plus the third form of a verb is an example of a passive verb in the past perfect. Please see our active and passive voice page for an explanation of the passive, which I think will answer your question. But if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask them there.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by leonardo999 on Tue, 24/06/2014 - 10:11

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Hi everyone, can anyone tell me the sentence " I knew Johnson for 15 minutes" is possible and correct as i am trying to suggest that Johnson was alive before 15 minutes so at that time i met him but shockly i get news about him that he was passed away, so is it correct to say " I knew johnson for 15 minutes"?

Hello leonardo999,

Yes, that sentence is correct in that context.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by leonardo999 on Mon, 23/06/2014 - 21:53

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Respectful sir, Primarly i want to thank all of the ones who cooperated and worked in creating such an amazing cultural and educational site that always helps us in solving linguistic matters. Anyway, for my concerns i would like to ask you that the sentence i have provided to you below is correct according to grammer ,if not please explain it to me because this sentence is proven wrong by some online digital grammer checkers online. I spread peace and love when i had known the world is sacred. ( is it correct in accordance to grammer in general) SOURCE: I Learned How To Sing When Love Became My Major... I Learned How To Dance When Music Became My Favourite... I Spread Peace And Love When I Had Known The World Is Sacred... I Was Gone From This World When My Mission Had Been Faded... I Always Loved Ones Though They Related Me To The Hatred... And I will Haunt You Forever With That Peace You Had To Never... I will be thankful if you explain it in detail. LEO

Hello leonardo999,

It's hard without knowing the context to be sure what the correct form should be of the sentence, but the verb form in the second half of the sentence needs to be changed. I suspect also that 'know' is not the correct verb here as you appear to be using it as an action or dynamic verb rather than a state verb; for this meaning you need to say 'get to know' or 'learn'.

I think the correct sentence would be:

I spread peace and love when i learned (that) the world is sacred.

However, as I said, without the context I cannot be sure that this is the intended meaning.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ubaiz on Mon, 23/06/2014 - 08:42

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I,m very happy that i reached the right place.am trying to improve my communication skill, the problem is when am talking geting confused about the tenses and grammar. so im getting stucked in between the talk. I hope i can overcome the problems and improve it to a good level

Submitted by chamildiss on Wed, 11/06/2014 - 08:28

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Can you please help me with this..... I have visited Russia several times, but can i say if i am not going there again ( i visited Russia several times)

Hi chamildiss,

You can say "I have visited" (present perfect) or "I visited" (past simple); whether you return to Russia or not doesn't influence which form to use. The difference between these two forms is a matter of perspective. If you use the present perfect, the implied context is "in my lifetime until now" and if you use the past simple, you're simply stating a fact about the past. Neither of these statements make any suggestion about the future. You might find our talking about the past page useful to review the different forms used to speak about the past.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

If the action is not in progress and has already stopped you can use Present Perfect of course, Chamildiss, So: I have been to Russia several times.

Submitted by RuhiyyeResul on Thu, 15/05/2014 - 19:24

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I prepared worksheets on Past Perfect using this page, a good test I had for my 8th graders...

Submitted by Mouh Gourda on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 22:05

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Dear sir kirk i'm really happy to be integrated in your social environment. i have a really low level, in the writing, reading and speaking. I need some guidance to learn english because i really have to improve level. thank you Mohamed

Hello Mohamed,

We're glad you're here as well! Have you looked around the site? I'd suggest that as a first step, as there are lots of different resources here.

What do you need to use English for? If, for example, you need it to study at university, then I would recommend working through our section on academic writing called Writing for a Purpose. If you need it for work, then I expect that you would find some useful content and practice in our Business & Work section. If you need to get a good mark on the IELTS exam, then our IELTS section would be really helpfu.

If you just want to improve in general and have no specific needs for now, I'd recommend working through different parts of Listen & Watch. Many users find the Elementary Podcasts and Big City Small World to be really helpful, and both have lots of exercises and downloadable content as well.

I hope that gives you some idea of the possibilities here. If your needs are different, then please let us know more specifically what they are, and we'll be happy to guide you.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Joanik78 on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 10:37

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I'm very happy to stay here in Bristish :)

Submitted by Olga Malynych on Tue, 28/01/2014 - 09:50

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Hello everyone. I'm a new member here. I'm from Ukraine. English is my hobby and profession at the same time. It's easily for me to understand English but rather difficult to speak and write right. I hope to improve it with your help.

Submitted by noorzai on Tue, 28/01/2014 - 05:49

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HI i am noorzai from india my english is not very good and for that i am trying this website please help me to improve my english THANKS

Hello noorzai,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! There are lots of resources here, and I'd encourage you to look through the different sections to get an idea of the possibilities.

Or, if you already know, for example, that you want to work on your listening or speaking, I'd suggest listening to our audio and video materials (there are several sections under Listen & Watch). There are transcripts and exercises to help you improve your listening comprehension, and you can use the audio as a model that you can imitate to learn new expressions and improve your pronunciation.

Whatever you do, it's best to try to have contact with English every day, even if it's only for a short time. Little by little, you should see that you improve!

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team