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 (127 votes)

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.

Hello kingson,

In the first situation, I would say 'If he sent me the email, I didn't get it. Whose fault is that?' 'I didn't get it' is better because I know for sure that I did not get the email.

In the second situation, only the first sentence is correct. I would probably say something like 'He told me to open the book and point out a particular picture', but your first option also works. The second does not -- 'open' and 'indicate' need to be in a past form.

We're happy to help you here. You might also consider checking our English Online classes, where you can work through materials on your own and then speak about them with other students and a teacher.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

Thank you very mcuh, Kirk for suggesting me to join the English online. I will do that.
I have a question for you, here. Please help me.
I understand the past tense has difference functions in English.
1. If you did it he would be angry (It is said in past tense but it is a futuristic statement - it is an imaginative sentence but indicates the future action)
2. He told me to do it until he came. (It is also past tense but it also indicates the future or present condition, because I am doing it at the moment until he returns)
And one more question on this second statement...
I can understand this sentence at the start (He told me to do it until...) but the last part of the sentence really annoys me, because the "coming" has not happened yet, but the tense is in a past form (he came). How can I understand this? I think if he has not come back yet it should be in a future tense (until he comes). Please clarify this for me and help me to understand this in a proper way.
Thank you,

Hi kingson,

It depends on a) whether this person ('he') has already come at the time the speaker speaks this sentence, or b) whether he still hasn't come at the time of speaking.

If it's a), then the past simple form 'came' reports a past event and so the past tense form makes more sense.

If it's b) -- which I think is what you're asking about -- then it's also correct to say 'until he comes', since, as you point out, he hasn't arrived yet. In situation b) it's also correct to say 'until he came'; in this case, the past tense 'came' refers more to the moment in the past when he spoke to me than it does to the later time when he is due to come.

This definitely makes the sentence with 'until he came' more ambiguous. When it's important that there be no ambiguity, you could say 'until he comes' or add another phrase or sentence that makes it clear hasn't yet arrived.

I hope that makes sense!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

That's a fantastic explanation. Thank you so much.

So I acn also say " He told me to do it until he comes"
Is that right?