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 (126 votes)

Hi Ahmed Imam,

I agree with you that "he had studied" is fine. Both the simple and continuous forms are grammatical here. The past perfect continuous emphasises the continuity and ongoing nature of the studying until that point, while the past perfect simple emphasises the completeness of it.

Thank you for your question!


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amir.h__760__ on Sun, 09/10/2022 - 12:58


I've got confused about this sentence that goes like this:
"The girl disappeared two days before she was reported to be missing".
Well , does it seem different for ya and
Does the meaning change if I say
The girl had disappeared two days before she was reported to be missing? ( she first disappeared obviously)
Yes or no and why?
Please answer me fast;I'm rush.
Best regards

Hello Amir,

Yes, you can say that, though the first version is more natural. This is because the way it is phrased ('two days before'), it's already very clear what happened first.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again
Can I say that when we have conjunction like after and before, we can always use present simple instead of past perfect one ?
Best regards

Hello Amir,

I wouldn't say that it's always possible to use the past simple instead of the past perfect with 'after' or 'before', but it is often possible and even preferable when the conjunction makes the sequence of actions clear and there are no other time references in the sentence that interfere.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sat, 01/10/2022 - 11:37


Dear Team,

How to say the following sentences.

It is easier to do it that way.
It is easy to do it that way.
If my question is not clear, please let me know, so that I can rephrase it.
Thank you,

Hello kingson,

Both of those sentences are grammatically correct. Both can be used to compare two or more methods of doing something. I'd probably use the one with the comparative form ('easier') because it seems a bit clearer to me.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dr Paul on Tue, 27/09/2022 - 10:44


Hello Kirk,

In a Bloomberg newsletter I came across the following sentence:

"Only 19 out of the 193 countries that vowed to put forward more ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the UN-sponsored climate talks in Glasgow last November had done so by last Friday, the deadline set by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

There are two points in time, namely "last November" and "last Friday". Could you explain to me why, in this example, the past perfect ("had done") comes after the past simple ("vowed")? Usually it is the other way around (hence the name "super past" or "double past").



Hi Paul,

Although this sentence is correct and natural, I can see why you ask about this usage. The reference point of 'had done so' is the deadline for putting forward of more ambitious targets, which most countries missed. The past simple 'vowed' refers to a more indefinite past time -- something that simply happened which isn't really explicitly related to 'had done so'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Many thanks for your swift reply.

My thoughts exactly regarding (the use of) the past perfect. The past simple didn't seem right. I was grappling with this grammar issue, because the English grammar textbooks say that the past simple is used for an (completed) action at a (definite) time in the past and the past perfect is used when an action happens before the aforementioned action.