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 (121 votes)

Hello DanielPero,

Yes, 'had been used' is a past perfect form of the passive voice and is correctly formed.

Whether it's the best form or not here depends on what is said before this sentence. If, for example, you'd been explaining how the building was used for something else before the building of the park, then your sentence would be using the past perfect appropriately. If not, 'was used' might be better (again, depending on the context).

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Skan on Sun, 13/11/2022 - 22:47


Before getting to the area of work, the morning team had already done all the necessary documentation. Is it correct statement

Hello Skan,

Yes, that is grammatically correct. I would probably suggest something like 'Before arriving to the work area, the morning team had already gathered (or 'produced') the necessary documentation' but what you wrote is also fine.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ebrumay on Wed, 26/10/2022 - 10:31


"She has already sent the report when she noticed the big mistake she had made."I would like to know if this sentence is grammatically correct.

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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


Dear Team,

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

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

Please enlighten me in this regard.
Thank you,

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.


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?