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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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

is it ok to use past perfect after "before" whenever it refers to the second verb

Hello hosnisalman54,

Do you mean a sentence like 'Lea ate ice cream before she had gone home'? If so, yes, that is possible. We tend not to use the past perfect in informal situations and speaking in general, but it's not wrong to do so.

If that's not what you meant, could you please give an example sentence?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

That's exactly what I mean , but I need more clarifications and how the rule works :
He wrote about the description and position of stars before people had even seen them ....could you explain it .

Hello again hosnisalman54,

It's not exactly a rule, but perhaps the first thing to keep in mind is that using the past perfect is optional in most cases. We can usually use other words and verb forms to express the same idea, and that's what we tend to do in speaking. In this case, you could say 'He wrote about the stars before people even saw them' and that would be fine, for example. 'before' makes the sequence of events very clear.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the past perfect always refers to some other past reference point. This past reference point isn't always explicit; it sometimes comes in another sentence that's already been spoken or written. In the sentence you mention, however, the past reference point is explicit: it's the time when people saw these previously unseen stars. Perhaps it'd be helpful to think of three times here: 1) people not seeing these stars, 2) the astronomer discerning and writing about the stars, and 3) people seeing these stars for the first time. 'before people had even seen them' refers to 1.

Does that help?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sokhom on Thu, 10/03/2022 - 03:25

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Hello, Sir!
I was wondering which sentence is correct.
1. He had met his wife 15 years ago. (I think 'ago' should be used with the past simple. Am I right?)
2. He had met his wife 15 years previously. (Can I use Past Simple?)
And I wanted to know if I can use the past perfect continuous 'had been having a party' in the sentence below because of the result ' it was noisy'.
E.g., It was very noisy next door. Our neighbors were having a party.
Thank you for your time.
Best Wishes!

Hello Sokhom,

'Ago' refers to a time before the present, so it doesn't work with past perfect, which refers to a time before another time in the past. We would use a phrase like 'before then' or 'previously', as you suggest.

As to whether the past perfect is appropriate, this depends on the context in which the sentence is used. Without context it's impossible to say if the past perfect or past simple is better in any given example.

 

In your final example the past perfect does not work as the party is still ongoing when it is noisy. In other words, we are not talking about a time before another time, but rather two past times which are simultaneous.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Naim22 on Wed, 23/02/2022 - 14:56

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I had a question in this question
First I ___ the salad, then I toasted the bread.
why we select made not had made, as the action of making salad is the first one

Hello Naim22,

When we describe a series of actions, we don't normally use the past perfect. Since this sentence describes a series of two actions, the past simple is the correct choice here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amynghiem on Mon, 14/02/2022 - 03:36

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Dear team,

Can I use Past Perfect Tense to describe something happened in a period of time? For example: The company had experienced an exceptional growth over the period of 1990 to 1995

Thank you

Hi amynghiem,

Yes, that is fine! However, the past perfect is used with reference to a second past time or past event, e.g. the 'sudden closure' here:

  • The sudden closure of the company in 1996 was a surprise. The company had experienced exceptional growth over the period of 1990 to 1995.

Otherwise, we would normally use the past simple ("The company experienced ...").

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir,
I have a similar problem here. You said the past perfect refers to the second past time or past event. The example sentence shown in the article above "It still hadn't rained at the beginning of May", however, only shows one action. So, my question here is, why it can be past perfect instead of being past tense.
Thank you very much.

Hi Sue2022,

In this sentence, It still hadn't rained means that there was no rain not only at the beginning of May, but also in the time leading up to the beginning of May. This is the "Time up to a point in the past" meaning. Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gretalicious on Wed, 09/02/2022 - 07:11

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Hello people, I`ve had some problems with the use of contraction in the past perfect. I`m reading a book at the moment, and the tenses are often in simple past in past perfect. Some examples:
"He had dumped the stolen car..." / "He`d no idea how she`d made the connection,..." / "She had walked to the..." / "She`d already made it..."

These sentences all are in past perfect, aren't they? Why are the contractions used so irregular? Are there some rules about the contractions ?

Thank for help a lot!

Hi Gretalicious,

Most of those verbs are in the past perfect: (1) he had dumped, (2) she'd made, (3) She had walked, (4) She'd already made. Actually, it is regular to contract the auxiliary verb had to 'd, as in (2) and (4). We could also contract (1) to he'd dumped and (3) to She'd walked.

One verb is in the simple past: He'd no idea (= He had no idea). Here, the verb had is the main verb (not auxiliary verb). It's a bit less common to contract have when it is the main verb - it's more often contracted when it is the auxiliary verb. But it is sometimes done, as in this example.

Does that make sense? I hope it helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Jonathan,
thank you for your response! And ses this make totally sense :)

But in relation to the contractions: Is there a rule, how to apply the contractions? Because in these examples, sometimes they are used and sometimes not. That's what confuses me...

Hello Gretalicious,

Contractions are generally a way of making writing more informal, as they reflect the way we speak in informal situations. They are therefore commonly used in informal writing. For example, in our comments we often use contractions because these are informal interactions, and when I write emails or messages to my friends, I also use them.

They are also commonly used in writing that is neutral -- somewhere between formal and informal -- such as emails to colleagues in your workplace or, depending on cultural factors, even professors at universities. In general, though, if you're not sure whether contractions are appropriate or not, it's probably better not to use them.

Beyond that, I'm afraid it's quite difficult to make any useful generalizations, but if you have a more specific situation in mind, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sun, 19/12/2021 - 05:11

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Dear Team,
"I have noticed that he broke it."
Is this a reported speech?
How can a pesent perfect (have noticed) and a past tense (broke) come together in a sentence?
Can the sentence after the conjunction (that) be used or considered as holding the adverbial function? Or Is there any sentence that we can use as an adverbial sentance which comes after "that"? - can you please give me some examples?
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hello kingson,

This is not an example of reported speech because no speech (words) is being reported.

I'm afraid it's difficult to comment on this sentence without knowing more about what it's reporting. My first impression, though, is that it's odd because if he broke it in the past, how is it that I've noticed it now -- in other words, how do I know for sure that he broke it and not someone else?

Could you explain it a bit more?

I don't think I'd say that the 'that' clause has an adverbial function. If you can tell us more about this, maybe we can help you with it, but we don't generally go into the nitty gritty of sentence structure -- our main focus is on helping people use English rather than on parsing it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you very much for your response.
Normally when I tend to make sentences like this (I have noticed that he broke it), I normally believe that the second part of the sentence is a past knowledge/memory (he broke it) that we can relate to current situation (I have noticed). Am I correct in my thinking? - This is my basic query.
Hope, this time I have asked my question in a clearer way.
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hello kingson,

Yes, I think that's possible, but in this situation I think it's a bit odd because of the verb 'notice'. If you say you've noticed something, it suggests you've either witnessed something happening or that you've just seen the result of an earlier action.

This is why 'I've noticed he broke it' sounds odd -- 'he broke it' is speaking about an action happening in the past but 'I've noticed' is speaking about witnessing something happening now.

Other combinations of the present perfect and past simple are possible. For example, 'I've eaten the salad you prepared'. I think the problem with the sentence you asked about has to do with the nature of the act of noticing something.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you verty much, Kirk for your responses.
"She has stated that she worked hard during her previous tenure"
I think the above sentence would be correct. Please confirm it - whether it is correct or not.
"She has stated that she had worked hard during her previous tenure (or) when she was employed by her previous company."
Can we use a past perfect (had worked) with a present perfect (has stated)?
And please let me know which suffix (during her previous tenure (or) when she was employed by her previous company) would be relevant if we use a past perfect (had worked).
Hope, I am not too much demanding.
I am using the above examples (sentences) not only to correct my grammatical errors for those examples but also it will be helpful for me when I make similar sentences and try to express my views in English.
Hope, you understand.
And my last question is about the "adverbial function."
"The poem that spoke/speaks about it."
Here the conjunction "that" and the suffix "spoke about it" has an adverbial function? (beause the verb can be changed in it - spoke/speaks - I think, in a way it describes the poem).
Please let me know whether I am right in my thinking.
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hello kingson,

Yes, that first sentence is grammatically correct.

Re: the second sentence, in most situations, a past simple form is more appropriate, but the past perfect could be correct in a specific context. For example, imagine the situation is a trial and a witness has said that she worked hard; one lawyer insinuates that this is not true, and the other lawyer could respond with this sentence. The 'has stated' refers to the immediate situation in the court, and the 'had worked' refers to the witness's recent statement that she worked hard. Does that make sense?

Regarding 'The poem that speaks about it', first of all please note that this is not a complete sentence, though of course it could be a part of a sentence such as 'The poem that speaks about it won an award'. I wouldn't say that the 'that' clause has an adverbial (and I don't think I've seen any grammar that describes it that way either) because it identifies the poem -- in this way it's adjectival. Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
I am so happy that you answered my questions. This gives me the confident and firmness in speaking and making sentences in English. Thank you so much and have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New year.
I will remember your help that you have rendered me so far.
Regards,
kingson.

Hello kingson,

Thanks for letting me know the explanation was useful -- I'm very glad to hear this.

Happy holidays to you, too!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
I understand that "had worked" has a "past time referral" from the recent statement of the witness (she worked hard). Am I right in my understanding?
Or, can the phrase/verb "had worked hard" be used by the other lawyer even though the opponent lawyer does not insinuates that this is not true?
Hope, I am clear in asking this question. I am just trying to understand the context here. That's all.
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hello kingson,

If I understand you correctly, yes, the other lawyer could use it as well. If you want to be completely sure, please feel free to write out the words the witness and lawyers say and I can confirm it for you, but my impression is you're looking at it correctly.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you very much for allowing me to further explore into this specific context.
Witness: I worked for the employer "X" during my previous tenure.
Lawyer 1: This is untrue.
Lawyer 2: No., she (witness) has just stated (immediate context of the court) that she had worked (taking the statement of the witness as the past referral point - I "WORKED" for the employer "X") for the employer "X".
Is my above understanding about the present and past perfect correct?
In the same way...
There is an employee called "Y" working for a company and now he is on holidays and in his position another employee is looking after "Y" employee's job. When I rang the company and talked to the another employee, who is looking after Y's job, I said to him that the "Y" had been sending emails on a regular basis to me to notify the better sale deals of the company.
Here, can I say to the another employee in the following way?
I: employee "Y" had been sending (the past time referral is, just the context - Y employee was regularly sending the emails) me emails on a regular basis.
I know I can use a past continuous, but I also understand that past continuous is a temporary act and sending emails is not a continuous action (it was an intermittant) by "Y" employee in the past. So I reckon I cannot use past continuous tense here.
Please enlighten me in this regard.
Thank you,
kingson

Hello kingson,

It's not impossible, but it'd be unusual for the Lawyer 2 to combine present perfect and past perfect like this ('she has just stated that she had worked'); instead, people would normally say 'she has just stated that she worked', assuming that the important point is that the witness did in fact work for the employer X.

In the second case, it kind of depends on your purpose in mentioning what Y did for you. If I were asking the substitute to do the same thing for me, I'd actually probably use the present simple: 'Y sends me emails to let me know about deals'. This is because I'm speaking about a regular recurrent action. But like I said, it really depends on my purpose in mentioning this to the substitute.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Here, the purpose of the use of "past perfect" is to say/indicate to the substitute employee that the "Y" employee was sending emails (whether or not they are related to the same deal) and there is no e mail contact from the company since the substitute took over. I think here, the purpose is implicit. But it is not explained by me to the substitute very clearly in my conversation. Under theses circumstance - Do I need to explicitly mention that (the purpose behind using the "past perfect" in my conversation) in my statement/conversation or it could have beed understood by the substitute without any clue (without any mention from me) in my conversation. Or could you please suggest me any viable purposes to have a past perfect here.
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hello kingson,

If I were in your position, I would probably say something like 'Employee Y usually send me emails about special deals. Could you do that for me too?', but yes, it's also fine to say something like 'Employee Y had been sending me regular emails about special deals before going on holiday'. Perhaps you could leave out the reference point ('before going on holiday'), but I'd recommend including it to make it clear.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NoorEldeen on Sat, 04/12/2021 - 19:49

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there was a question in my exam that want's me to correct the grammatical mistake but I don't know the answer the question was:I have already studied since 2 hours.
a:I have been studied since 2 hours
b:I has been studying for 2 hours
c:I have studied 2 hours ago
d:I studied since 2 hours
e:I have already studied for 2 hours

Hello NoorEldeen,

The correct answers is 'e'.

'a' is grammatically possible but makes the sentence passive.
'b' is incorrect. You need to say 'have' after 'I'.
'c' is incorrect. 'Ago' shows finished time so past simple is needed ('studied') not present perfect ('have studied').
'd' is incorrect. 'Since' needs a point of time (12.30) and not a period of time ('2 hours'). 'Since also shows unfinished time so needs the present perfect and not the past simple.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 23:38

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Dear Team,
I have two things to ask.
1. I have a friend (We are friends for 10 years)
How can I say that?
A. He is my friend for the past 10 years
Or
B. He has been my friend for the past 10 years.
In which way I can say it? Please help me in this line.
2. It seems "to have finished."
What sort of tense (to have finished) is used here and what does this mean?
Please enlighten me in this regard.
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hi kingsonselvaraj,

1. Sentence A is understandable, but sentence B is the correct one. The verb needs the present perfect to support the meaning of "for the past 10 years", a duration of time from the past until the present.

2. This is called a perfect infinitive. The structure is "to + have + past participle". It shows that the action ("finish") is already complete, i.e., it happened and finished sometime before the present moment. You can read more about it on this Cambridge Dictionary page: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/perfect-infini…

I hope it helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you very much for your response. So (from your answer I understand) we can also say "He is my friend for 10 years." Is that right?
I have another question...
My friend bought a house few days ago and the house has got a young tree at the front yard. I asked him the following question using present perfect.
Has this tree been there already? (meaning my friend did not plant it but it comes with the house when he bought the house)
Is the question right ? Or is there any grammatical error in it?
Following that I have another question.
Can I put my question in the following way.
Had the tree been there already when you bought this house?
Please let me know whether this is correct or not?
Thank you again.
Regards,
kingson

Hi kingson,

About "He is my friend for 10 years", some people do say that, and I expect that the meaning (from the past until now) will probably be obvious from the context of the conversation if somebody said that in real life. But, it would be considered incorrect from a grammatical point of view. So, can we say it? Yes, we can, but whether it's appropriate or not depends on the situation. In a formal situation, for example, I would say "He's been ..." instead, as there is usually a higher expectation that people should speak clearly and accurately, but in a casual conversation it would probably be acceptable.

For the question about the tree, it should be in the past simple, because you are asking about a past time:
-- Was this tree there already (when you bought the house)?

The past perfect ("Had the tree been there ...") doesn't work here, because the tree was still there at the moment of buying the house, and is still there now (i.e. it was and is an ongoing state).

Best wishes,
Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much, Jonathan,

Can we use the present perfect to indicate the "on going status" (the tree is still there) of the tree?
Has this tree been there already, when you bought the house? (I know this refers to a past time (when you bought) but still want to know whether we can construct a sentence like this).
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hi kingson,

No, because the time of "when you bought the house" is in the past, not ongoing, as you pointed out. But we could ask "How long has the tree been there?" (i.e., until the present moment) using the present perfect.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you very much for your responses. I understand the ongoing status and relating to present moment can be mentioned by the present perfect tense. I have a new question now. Sometimes we use present perfect tense to relate to a futuristic action.
e.g. After you have finished (present perfect) the work come and see me (future action).
In this case it is not an ongoing action or it is not related to present/current situation.
So please explain to me how we can understand this kind of verb (present perfect tense) use in a futuristic action.
Thank you,
Regards,
kingson

Hello kingson,

In time clauses with words like 'when', 'after', 'until' (and other expressions) that refer to a future time, a present simple verb form is typically used, but it's also possible to use other present time verb forms such as the present perfect.

After you finish the work, come and see me.
After you have finished the work, come and see me.

There is no difference in meaning between these two sentences. In theory, the present perfect of the second one puts a bit more emphasis on the work being completed. But in the case of a verb like 'finish' which by its very meaning refers to completion (or not), this emphasis is lost.

In general, although English verb tenses are named with a time word (such as 'past', 'present' or 'future'), the times of the actions that these verb tenses refer to are not always the same as the time the verb tense's name suggests. Your question about the present perfect here is one example of this; another is the present continuous in 'Tomorrow I'm going to the cinema', where a so-called 'present' form actually refers to the future.

It's important to remember this when thinking about English verb tenses.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by re_nez on Tue, 09/11/2021 - 19:44

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Hello!
Which tense do I have to use to describe several events that happened before a specific point in the past (-> the main events in the story). Do I stick to the past perfect or change to past simple to show the order of the events?
e.g.:
1. The police officer interviewed all the suspects. The butler said that during the dinner party, Mrs. Grey had left the dining room before the dessert had been served. She had gone to the kitchen to help her friend with the drinks.
or
2. The police officer interviewed all the suspects. The butler said that during the dinner party, Mrs. Grey had left the dining room before the dessert was served. She had gone to the kitchen to help her friend with the drinks.

Thanks
Renie

Hello re_nez,

Both of these are possible, but I'd recommend 2. The past perfect is one way to show that one event came before another, but using it too much can get confusing, and often we use other expressions to clearly indicate the sequence of events.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
Thanks a lot for your immediate reply.
Concerning the expressions to indicate the sequence of events, could you please give me a few examples?
Thank you in advance.
Renie

Submitted by Natasa Tanasa on Sun, 31/10/2021 - 11:52

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Hello everyone!

Which sentence is correct here:

1. I didn't recognize her at first because she changed so much.
2. I didn't recognize her at first because she had changed so much.
3. I hadn't recognized her at first because she changed so much.

Thank you so much!

Hi Natasa Tanasa,

All three can be correct :)

One action occurred before another (her change occurred before me not recognising her). So, the past perfect in sentence 2 works here.

Many speakers also simplify the past perfect to the past simple if the order of events is made clear in another way. Here, the word 'because' shows that 'she changed' happened before 'I didn't recognise' in a cause-effect relationship (logically, a cause must occur before an effect). The order of events is fairly clear, even without the use of the past perfect. So, I think some people would say sentence 1 as well.

For sentence 3, if we look at this sentence by itself, there is no reason to use the past perfect for 'I hadn't recognised', because there is no other past event that it was earlier than. But, if this is part of a real conversation, some other past event could be mentioned in a different sentence. For example:
-- "I realised yesterday that our new colleague is someone I went to school with! I hadn't recognized her at first because she (had) changed so much."

In this example, the past perfect works because the action ('I hadn't recognised') occurred before another past action ('I realised') and these actions are logically related.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tony1980 on Tue, 26/10/2021 - 11:28

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Hi Jonathan
Thanks for your explanation very helpful indeed

When mr. Brown came to the party all the guests were sitting at the table.
“ were sitting “ means that they started sitting before mr. Brown came to the party and they were still sat when he came . But isn’t it past perfect to indicate this kind of action. And as you mentioned in your earlier posts isn’t it wrong to use past continuous for actions happening before another past action??

Best regards
Andi

Hi Andi,

To answer this question it's important to understand that the verb 'sit' has two meanings.

1. to put yourself on a chair (an action)
2. to be in a chair (a state)

So, in your sentence, if you say 'all the guests were sitting' (past continuous), there are two possible meanings. It could mean that at that particular moment, the guests were in the middle of putting themselves on chairs (meaning 1 of 'sat'). Alternatively, it could mean that they had put themselves on chairs some time earlier, and were resting on their chairs at that particular moment (meaning 2 of 'sat'). In both cases, the past continuous shows a concurrent action/state, not an earlier one.

With the past perfect, you could say 'all the guests had (already) sat down' (meaning 1 of 'sit').

Does that make sense?

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team