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.

Adverbs

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)
Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Hello ebrumay,

I'm afraid it is not correct. The phrase 'when she noticed' makes it clear that the action of sending the report occurred in the past, and so 'has already sent' is not correct (since it is present perfect). If you change 'has already sent' to 'had already sent', it will be correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Patricia Luz on Thu, 20/10/2022 - 23:17

Permalink

Hi there!
Could you please explain the abbreviation in the sentence below from Grammar test 1?
3. She looked really sad but I didn't know what ___. ´d happened?

Can we use the contract form of HAD (´d) with question words (what´d)?
Thank you.

Hi Patricia Luz,

Yes, you can use the contraction 'd with question words. It's a very informal use, most often used when we are writing down someone's speech and less common in writing.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Tue, 18/10/2022 - 00:18

Permalink

Dear Team,

Which of the following is right?
1. I will have been doing the same, next year.

or
1. I would have been doing the same, next year.

Please enlighten me in this regard.
Thank you,
kingson

Hi kingsonselvaraj,

The context of the sentence is a bit unclear for me. "The same" seems to refer to an activity but it's not mentioned here.

The "will" sentence is a fairly certain prediction, while the "would" sentence is a hypothetical one that will not happen (e.g. "I would have been doing the same thing ... if he hadn't told me to stop doing it").

However, it would be common to use a more specific time reference, e.g. "Next January, I will have been doing the same job for 10 years".

For more information, you may like to look at our pages on will have and would have and the future continuous and future perfect.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

*I didn't notice he fell.
*I didn't notice he'd fallen.

I didn't know he stole your money.
I didn't know he'd stolen your money.

whats the difference and whats more correct can we use past simple?

Hi The Batman3232,

The past perfect sentences are grammatically correct. The past perfect is needed because the actions (he'd fallen / he'd stolen) logically occurred before the other past actions (didn't notice / didn't know).

However, in everyday speaking and writing, it's common to simplify by using the past simple instead of the past perfect, so in that context the past simple sentences may be considered acceptable too.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

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

Permalink

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.