Past perfect

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


Past perfect and past simple


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 ahmed only,

If the subject is 'we' then we would use 'ourselves'.  If the subject is something else then we would use 'us':

We can protect ourselves with anti-mosquito spray.

Anti-mosquito spray can protect us.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Khallaf on Mon, 05/05/2014 - 13:21

i also want a strict answer about the difference between the past perfect & the past perfect continuous because here in my own country every one has an opinion about it everyone is distorting

Hi ahmed only,

Since they are often used to express a difference in the speaker's view, it can be quite a challenge to learn to use these two forms properly. In general, the continuous form is used for actions or situations that are viewed by the speaker as temporary or relatively short, whereas the simple form is used for more permanent or longer actions or situations.

For example, in the case of the two sentences you ask about in your other comment, the continuous form ("How long have you been waiting here?") is the best form in most situations because presumably the person who has been waiting has not been there for months or years. Even if he or she had been waiting for years, the continuous forms are often used in situations which have just finished (in this case, the waiting has just finished if the person asking the question is the person who was being waited for).

Does this help? If you haven't already, I'd also suggest looking at our present perfect, perfective aspect and continuous aspect pages for more examples and explanations.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Khallaf on Mon, 05/05/2014 - 13:18

what 's the difference between (How long have you been waiting here?)(How long have you waited here?)

Submitted by junayedriy on Fri, 07/03/2014 - 15:06

Hello Sir, I am very much happy to learn English with British council. You teachers are wonderful! I have a question related to the topic. Could you please tell me which alternative is correct? a) The train was left by then. Or b) The train had left by then.

Hello junayedriy,

The second sentence is correct.  The past perfect is formed with had + the past participle (third form), not the verb 'be'.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Emmaogbue on Wed, 19/02/2014 - 09:19

I'am happy to be a member of this website,i just pray the I will learn more than my expectation.

Submitted by Amal.mahmoud on Tue, 03/12/2013 - 15:24


if u plz can u tell me when i can use past perfect and past perfect continous

and present perfect and present perfect coninous

slowly plz coz  i have conflict and i don't undersatnd them


Hello Amal.mahmoud,

I've answered this question on this page for you.  Sometimes it takes us a little while to answer all the questions - we are a small team and there are many questions every day! However, we do answer the questions we receive so please be patient and ask each question once only, and we will answer as quickly as we can.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by qristine megre… on Tue, 18/06/2013 - 00:07


Score: 100.00%
Points scored 36 out of 36

Submitted by Stoobie on Thu, 13/06/2013 - 01:18


Help, what are the rules when using past perfect in conjunction with "because"?

He attacked me because I had slept with his wife.

We went to the cinema because we wanted to watch that movie.

In the second example I have used past simple instead of past perfect. Could you please tell me if both sentences are correct and if so, why is past perfect valid for the first but not applicable for the second.

Hello Stoobie,

Both sentences are correct, but in the first example you could use either the past perfect or the past simple in the second half, and both would be fine.  Which you choose is dependent what you choose to emphasise.  If you want to emphasise the connection between the two actions (one is the result of the other) then the past perfect is more likely - as it is in this particular context.

In the second example the time relationship is different. Presumably you still wanted to watch the film when you got to the cinema, meaning there is not a clear sequential relationship between the actions.  It can help to imagine a present / present perfect equivalent:

I'm going to the cinema because I want to see the film. (correct)

I'm going to the cinema because I have wanted to see the film. (incorrect)

I hope that clarifies it for you.  It is a difficult area.

For more information on the perfective aspect look here (click).

For specific information on the past perfect look here (click).

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by khatia aprasidze on Wed, 15/05/2013 - 16:07


my score is100 %. point scored 36 out of 36.

Submitted by khmania777 on Mon, 15/04/2013 - 23:25


What is the difference between these two?

In the few seconds after she had downed the liquid, something had grabbed our new teacher and spirited her away from us.

In the few seconds after she had downed the liquid, something grabbed our new teacher and spirited her away from us.

Why is past perfect used twice in the top sentence when the meaning seems clearer in the sentence below?

Hello khmania777!


Both sentences are grammatically correct, although which is best might dpeend on the sentence that comes after it. In British English, we use the past perfect a little more often than in American English, but in these sentences, the difference is not important, and the meaning is clear in both.




Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zorke on Mon, 15/04/2013 - 19:08


Hello there.

I was wondering if there's any chance for me to find someone to practice English with via Skype, or in some other way. I don't want to sound like spam or something like that. I am 24 year old student of tourism from Serbia. I know some English but I'm desperate to get some experience in speaking, since I don't have much opportunities to speak in foreign language with anyone I know. I typed "learn English" in Twitter search box and this web site came up. So looking forward to your answer. If this message is against the rules of this web site, feel free to delete it and let me know.

Best wishes, Dragan Zoric Zorke.

Hello Dragan Zorkic Zorke!


Thanks for taking the time to introduce yourself, and welcome to LearnEnglish. I'm afraid, though, that our house rules do ask you not to share Skype information - this is to protect all our users.

Practising your English with no-one around can be tricky, but here are a few suggestions.

  • Use the comments section here to practice grammar and vocabulary. It's writing, but still useful.
  • Try to record yourself. Choose some of the discussion questions and go to a site like, record your answers,  and playback your recording – what mistakes did you make? What do you like about your answer?
  • Keep listening to our recordings. One of the best ways to improve speaking... is listening!

Finally, remember you don't have to have a native speaker to talk to. Maybe a friend or colleague wants to talk English – ask around, and find someone who wants to practice.


Good luck, and keep working on it!




Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team


Submitted by Mohammed Anas on Mon, 15/04/2013 - 08:59


Hi LearnEnglish Team,
Can we use "had been + past participle" for the past perfect:
example : When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.

Hello there Mohammed!


That is actually had been + -ed adjective. You can read about - ed adjectives here. Here, had been is the past perfect of is.


Hope that helps,


Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lenathamer on Tue, 26/02/2013 - 15:38

Thank you British council .. it is really useful

Submitted by Honscho on Fri, 21/12/2012 - 21:24



here's an extract from a grammar book:

We visited Switzerland four times during the 1970s.


I had stayed in the hotel twice in the 1980s.


(The sentences are from different Units)


What's the difference?

Why is it possible to use the past perfect in the second sentence?


Hello Honscho!

Without seeing the context of the sentences, it's hard to say. However, the past perfect sentence shows that something more important (the main time of the story) happened after the hotel visits:

I had visited the hotel twice in the 1980s, but I couldn't find it again when I went back there in 1992.


Have a look at our past perfect pages, or try searching for the past perfect in the search box on the right of the page for more examples.

Hope that helps!


Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team


Submitted by jmslayer on Wed, 14/11/2012 - 02:11


If you want to migrate to the other countries nor you would like to live or work  you must need to know if you are qualified for the immigrant visa's or appropriate job that suits you best. Whereas the areas of difficulties going to live in another place is very hard especially if you don't know what exactly your main reason to live in a foreign territory. You want to live there because you would like  to work ? Nor you want to go there as a tourist visitor? Hope that this will give you a hint's or guiding you what do you want to achieve your life in a near future. Thank you very much English team to provide some space here now I have time to express myself to the other nationalities as well. More power to all of you.

Submitted by laxmany on Thu, 18/10/2012 - 07:24


Hi LearnEnglish Team,

Can we use "had been + past participle" for the past perfect: 

example : When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.

Submitted by barbouni on Fri, 31/08/2012 - 16:06



I' d like to ask something. I read in a grammar book that verbs such as understand and know are not common in past perfect tense, unless they are followed by "for". Ex. They were good friends, they had known each other for years BUT As soon as I understood the joke, I started laughing. My questions: does this stand? and can' t the verbs be followed by "since", so the first example would be: they had known each other since kindergarten?

Thank you.

Submitted by rita2512 on Sat, 11/08/2012 - 16:26


Dear British Council, 

I don't understand one of the theories of Past Perfect. It is "When we are reporting our experience and including to the present, we use Past Perfect". 

I was wondering that if an event occurred in the past and continued to the present. Why we don't use Present Perfect instead of Past Perfect? 

Submitted by eugbukh on Tue, 22/05/2012 - 07:47


Instead of "They HAD been staying with us since the previous week" as stated above, wouldn't it be better to say: They HAVE been staying with us since the previous week?

Hi eugbukh!

This page is about the past perfect, which we use when we are talking about past events. For example, this sentence could be used like this:


My brother and his wife left last Monday. They had been staying with us since the previous week.


We use previous because this means the week before whenever you are talking about.


You could say:


My brother and his wife are leaving today. They have been staying with us since last week.


but this has a different meaning,and uses the present perfect. It uses last because we don't use previous to mean the week just before this one. You can read more about the differet perfect tenses on our perfective aspect page.


Hope that helps!


Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rashidalikhan1985 on Sun, 20/05/2012 - 22:03


Hi, I am trying to improve communication skills for four years. but I am getting stuck, I am 27 years old, Please someone tell the right way to be fluent and improve my proununciation

Hello rashidalikhan1985!


You're not alone! After my students have studied for a while, they also feel they stop improving. Actually, you are still improving, but not as fast as a beginner does – this is normal, and you shouldn't feel bad about it.


To improve your communication skills, try talking as much English as you can. If you can't talk to native speakers, maybe a friend is also learning English. Try practising with them. For pronunciation, remember that listening is very important, and we have lots of listening resources – like our Elementary Podcasts to help you. We've also got a pronunciation course coming, so watch out for that!


Best wishes,


Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bader A Obiad on Sun, 20/05/2012 - 11:48


DeaR AdmIN

 i want to know how i can learn english here 

and how i can go to usa ??>>>i must win on something ???

Dear Bader,

You learn English here by reading, listening or watching the English on our pages and doing the exercises.

I don't know the best way for you to go to the USA or any other country, because it depends a lot on visas - this website is more about Learning English than travel, although we try to help if we can!

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DrikaRodrigues on Sun, 20/05/2012 - 07:16


Dear British Council


Thank you for help me to understand the British English! 


Submitted by Mei Yuan on Sat, 31/03/2012 - 17:23


hi, I am new. I come from Vietnam and I want to improve my English.That is very important with me.


Submitted by Anastasia Rybina on Wed, 22/02/2012 - 17:35


Dear British Council,

My name is Asya and I'm 14 years old.

I'm from Russia, and english language is very important for me!

great regards