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 (106 votes)

I know that use of past perfect here is correct, but I don't want to use past perfect unless it's essential in this case I think it's clear that it happened before, and I didn't know about it. can you just make sure is it completely right to use past simple?
more examples: 1)I didn't know he broke/had broken into your house. here what's the difference can i use past simple instead of past perfect?
2) Context I am playing a game and I fell off the building and i took some fall damage so how would i say ?
I didn't notice I took a fall damage.
I didn't notice I'd taken a fall damage.
(can i use past simple here?

Hi TheBatman3232,

I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to my previous message! As I mentioned before, in everyday speaking and writing people often simplify by using the past simple instead of the past perfect. So to answer your question “is it completely right to use past simple?”, allow me to ask you a question: what do you mean by “completely right”? If you mean “is it grammatical?”, then the answer is no, assuming that “didn’t know/notice” refers to not knowing/noticing at the time of the other action. If this is a question in a grammar test, or you are speaking or writing in a formal situation, then the past perfect would be preferred and the past simple would probably be considered an error.

But if you mean “Is it commonly used?” or “Is it acceptable?”, then the answer is yes, especially in everyday communication, where a high level of grammatical accuracy is not always expected. You mentioned the situation of playing a game, which is an informal situation, so I imagine this might be the answer that is most relevant to you. As you pointed out, the meaning is clear enough when using the past simple.


The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sun, 16/10/2022 - 11:26


Hello. Could you please help me?
- When he arrived in Cairo, he had studied English for six years.
I think this sentence is correct. Some teachers say it must be “had been studying.” What do you think?
Thank you.

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