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)

Hi kingsonselvaraj,

The word "and" can connect two elements of the same syntactic level, e.g.:

  • two verbs (He ran and fell. = He ran and he fell.)
  • two participles/adjectives (The bread was sliced and buttered. = The bread was sliced and it was buttered.)
  • two verb phrases (I passed the test and will apply to university soon.)

Your first sentence is grammatically correct. "Was uncomfortable" and "needed some bread to eat" are two verb phrases for the same subject, "He". 

No, "was" does not apply to "needed" here, since that would make "was needed" ("He was needed some bread to eat" is ungrammatical). However, in another sentence, "was" (or "be") could apply to the second verb (e.g. "was sliced and buttered" in my example above).

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Jonathan,
That's fine with this sentence (He was uncomfortable and needed some bread) but what happens in a sentence like this... "They were confused and asked some questions." (I clarified this question with your team some months ago). I was under the impression that "confused" is an adjective (more likely to be an adjective than the past participle of a passive verb). So I need a clarification as to understand the "two verb phrases for the same subject" for the sentence mentioned above (They were confused and asked some questions).
So which is the better way to understand - whether to take it as a "two verb phrase" or "more likely to be an adjective rather than past participle of a passive verb.
Thank you again,

Hi kingsonselvaraj,

I think there are two possible interpretations of "They were confused and asked some questions".

  1. They were confused and they asked some questions.
  2. They were confused and they were asked some questions (by somebody else).

For meaning 1, the basic structure is "They A and B" (A = were confused, B = asked some questions).

For meaning 2, the basic structure is "They were A and B" (A = confused, B = asked some questions)

I agree that "confused" is more likely to be an adjective. To me, the most obvious meaning is that if somebody is confused, they ask questions to clear up their confusion (i.e., meaning 1). That seems logical. But in meaning 2, there's no obvious reason why somebody would ask questions to the confused people - although it is possible, of course - so looking at the sentence alone, we are unlikely to interpret it that way.

We cannot say which meaning is the better way to understand it, or which is the "correct" meaning, because we have no context for this sentence - we have no other clues to the intended meaning. So, I would say that meaning 1 is the most likely one, because its logic is more obvious, but meaning 2 is also possible. It really depends on the context.

Does that make sense? I hope it helps. By the way, if you have more questions about this topic, they would fit will on our Verb phrases page instead of the Past perfect page.


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much, Jonathan for your patience to answer my question.
I have one more question to ask in this line.
So which one to follow in these two sentences?
1. Two phrase verb (e.g. was uncomfortable and needed)

So this sentence has not got any adjective functioning? How?
2. adjective function?(e.g. was confused and asked questions)
So this sentence has not got any two phrase verb ? How?

Hope, you have understood my question. If not I would be able to rephrase my question. Please let me know. I will definitely follow the link that you gave me.
Thank you,

Hi kingson,

1. In "He was uncomfortable and needed some bread" (the verb phrases are in bold), yes - there is an adjective in the first verb phrase. The first verb phrase is made of a linking verb (was) and adjective (uncomfortable). The adjective is a part of the verb phrase.

2. Yes, "confused" is an adjective, but it is part of the verb phrase "was confused", together with the linking verb "was".

I hope that helps to make sense of it. Please post any more questions about this on the Verb phrases page. Thanks!


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yasseresmael on Wed, 18/05/2022 - 21:25


hello guys
3. First I ___ the salad, then I toasted the bread.
why had made in this question would be wrong ? it is supposed that we use the past perfect for the first action in the past so why here the answer is made ?

Hello yasseresmael,

When we talk about a sequence of events in the past -- in other words, first one action, then another action, etc. -- we normally use the past simple, and this is especially true when we use adverbs like 'first', 'next' and 'then'. Since this sentence has 'first' and 'then' and describes a sequence of actions, the past simple is the best form here.

There are a couple of other pages in our English grammar reference with more detailed explanations that you might be interested in looking at: Talking about the past and Past perfect.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Wed, 18/05/2022 - 12:41


Dear Team,
Context (hypothetical): I worked in an organization. I planned for a program. But I could not execute the program because my tenure with the organization came to an end. So I need to report it to somebody else. Can I follow the following ways to say it?
My tenure was finished even before I executed (but I did not execute the program) the program.
My tenure was finished even before I was about to execute the program.
Which one is correct. Please enlighten me in this regard. Or is there any other way of saying this?
Thank you,

Hello kingson,

Using the vocabulary you've suggested, I would say 'My tenure finished before I executed the programme'. There are many other ways you could also say this, such as:

  • My contract with XYZ ended before the programme began.
  • I planned the programme but was not able to run it since my contract ended before it began.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 08:37


Dear Team,

I have got two different questions. Please help me in this regard.


Context (its only hypothetical): My colleague "X" sent me an email. And I did not receive it for some reason. But my manager said to that I should have received it. But actually I did not receive it. So I try to explain to my manager in the following way....

"If "X" had sent me the email and I had not got it, whose fault is that?"
"If "X" had sent me the email and I would not have got it, whose fault is that?"
"If "X" have sent me the email and I have not received it, whose fault is that?"

Please let me know, which sentence would be gramatically appropriate to this context and why.

My second question is...

Context: My friend wanted me to open up a book and indiacte a picture from it and I am reporting it to somebody else.

He replied back to me it would be relevant if I opened the Book and indicated that particular picture.
He replied back to me it would be relevant if I open the Book and indicate that particular picture.

Thank you so much for all your answers. You are doing a great job for people like me- trying to learn English.