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 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,
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,

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,
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,

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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.

The LearnEnglish Team

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


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
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,

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:…

I hope it helps :)

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.