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 (127 votes)

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

Submitted by Jogoldfish on Mon, 23/01/2023 - 11:24


Please can you tell me why past perfect is incorrect in the following sentence?

Sorry for not being there yesterday, but it had been difficult to predict it earlier: I joined a meeting with my colleagues which finished late.

I used 'past perfect' to emphasize that a prediction process took place (or even had taken place) before the scheduled online lesson. So both situations happen in the past but one much earlier than another. I'm told it is correct to use past simple ("It was difficult to predict it earlier") rather than past perfect but I don't understand why. Thanks.

Hi Jogoldfish,
Speakers sometimes simplify by using the past simple instead of the past perfect, especially when the order of events is already made clear by other information in the sentence (e.g. "earlier"). Perhaps that is why the person suggested the correction. But to be honest, I think the past perfect is acceptable here! Perhaps you can ask the person who told you that for more information?
LearnEnglish team