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


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Thank you very much for the explanation.

This actually leads me to ask another question.

Direct speech: John said to me "I have got a pen"
Indirect : John told me that he had got a pen.

Here the past tense for "have got" is "had got"

Please let me know, whether my understanding is correct or not.

Thank you,

Hello kingson,

No, I'm afraid that is not correct. The past version of 'has/have got' is simply 'had'.

We only use 'has/have got' in the present.

The verb form 'had got' exists, but it is the past perfect of the verb 'get', which has a different meaning:

  • I've got holidays soon. ('have got' = present simple)
  • I got sick just before my holidays. ('got' = past simple)
  • I had got sick just before my flight and so I caught the next one. ('had got' = past perfect)

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Dear Kirk,

Thank you very much for your effort to explain things to me.

You mentioned "have got" is a present simple. Is not it (have got) a "present perfect?"

I am just clarifying this bit. That's all.


Hi kingsonselvaraj,

It might be helpful to distinguish two different meanings of "have got".

  1. I've got brown hair. (present; a state; meaning = possession)
  2. There's no need to get milk. I've got some already. (happened before the present; an action; meaning = obtaining or acquiring something)

Although from a structural point of view, "have got" does have a present perfect structure, it only has a present perfect meaning in example 2 above.

Example 1's meaning is about possession in the present (not present perfect), and this is in fact the primary meaning of "have got" in British English. It is idiomatic, and it's more useful to think of it as a present simple meaning, rather than a present perfect.

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

It really helps a lot. I have learnt a new meaning for the "present perfect." Thank you very much for that.

Submitted by JameK on Sat, 28/01/2023 - 03:59


Sir, I saw the sentence ''We'd never met before the party.'' Is that party also past event or now I'm in the party and telling this.
Could you answer me when you get a chance?
I haven't seen you before or I hadn't seen you before? Could you explain me, Sir.

Hello JameK,

The past perfect (had + verb3) is used to show a past event before and connected to another past event; it is never used without a second past time (stated or implied) for reference. The present perfect (have + verb3) is used to show a past event before and connected to the present.

In your sentence

We'd never met before the party

both events are in the past. We only use the past perfect (had never met) when there is a second past time which it can be before. If the part was still in progress you would use the present perfect:

We have never met before this party


Your second question depends on the context. If you're speaking to the person at your first meeting then you'd say

I haven't seen you before (now/today/this party)

On the other hand, if you're speaking to the person at a second meeting and talking about a previous introduction, you would say

I hadn't seen you before (that party/last week/our meeting yesterday)



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 27/01/2023 - 12:52


Dear Team,

In the following sentence the words "help feed" are simple presentence words. How come they come together one after another? How can I understand that?
"May they discover fresh energy to cultivate crops that "help feed" the town.

Is the following sentence correct? How come there are two past tenses ("went crooked") come together? How can I understand this?
He "went crooked."

Please help me in this regard.

Thank you,

Hi kingsonselvaraj,

"Feed" is not in the present tense here. The verb "help" can be followed by another verb in the infinitive, either with or without "to". You can say "help feed" (help + infinitive) or "help to feed" (help + to + infinitive). Both are grammatical and they mean the same thing as each other.

In the second sentence, "crooked" is actually an adjective meaning "not straight". It isn't a past tense here. The meaning of "went" in this sentence is "became", and it is a linking verb.

I hope that helps to understand it.


LearnEnglish team