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 (123 votes)
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Hello again kingson,

The problem here is the meaning of the verb 'notice'. We do not notice over a period of time; we notice in an instant and then may or may not investigate further. If you use a different verb (study, investigate etc) then the continuous form would be possible.

Your second example (with the pots) is fine.

 

In your next example (I 'noticed' (past tense) that there 'had been' (past perfect) an array of rocks, which 'resembled' a pattern.) I don't see why the past perfect is needed. Presumably the array of rocks still exists when you notice it (the only alternative would be to notice the pattern by looking at a photo of something which no longer exists), so a past simple would be used.

 

I think we've gone as far as we can with these examples. Remember that perfect forms are very much context-dependent and we are looking at examples without a broader context here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Mon, 14/08/2023 - 01:27

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Dear Team,

Please help me in the following.

Is it right to say...

We have it painted to make it nice.

and

We had it painted to make it nice.

Please let me know whether these two sentences are grammatically right or not.

Regards,

kingson

Hello kingson,

This is a page on the past perfect so let me point out first of all that neither of these sentences are past perfect. Rather, they are examples of the construction 'have something done', which is known as causative have. We use this when someone performs a service for us, usually for money (a paid service). For example:

I wrote the book. [I'm the author]

I had the book written. [someone else did it for me]

Your question, therefore is about the tense used: in the first example you use the present simple (have) whereas in the second you use the past simple (had). If you are talking about a single event in the past then the past simple is appropriate. If you are talking about something that occurs regularly (every week, for example) then you would use the present simple.

You can read more about causative have here:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/have-something-done

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Great! Another thing for me to learn. I am currently going through the link, you sent.
Thank you so much,
kingson

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Fri, 04/08/2023 - 17:32

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Hello,
Could you tell me the difference between these two sentences?
I had ridden a bike before I bumped into Joe
And
I had been riding a bike before i bumped into Joe?

Hello Khangvo,

Without any other context, the first one means that sometime in your lifetime, you rode a bike before you bumped into Joe. It would be quite an odd thing to say unless there were some situation that made it clear it were talking about another time period other than your lifetime.

The second one means that shortly before bumping into Joe you were riding a bike. This one sounds completely normal.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Ahmed Hassan5 on Mon, 24/07/2023 - 11:02

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Dear Sir,
Could you please give me a hand to understand the difference between the past simple and the past perfect ? it was clear for me until I found these sentence (I started as a trainee on a local newspaper and then I started a three-year apprenticeship) as I know if we have 2 actions in the past, the earlier one should be Past Perfect. so please clarify as much as you can,
Thanks in advance

Hello Ahmed Hassan5,

Actually, it's not true that we always use the past perfect for the earlier past action. As you've noticed in the sentence you mention, we often use the past simple. In this case, it is a sequence of actions that a person did and it's already very clear which one happened first. Other tenses such as the past continuous are also possible.

There are different reasons someone might use the past perfect, but often it's when we are already in a past time mindset and then look even further back into the past. I think our Talking about the past page would be really useful for you, as it mentions several different tenses together and so it's easier to see the different uses of them. Please have a look and then if you have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask us!

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by inci.yildirim on Sat, 15/07/2023 - 21:16

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Dear Sir,

in grammer test 2, 3rd questions
Why the answer is not the " 'd made"? Doesn't the word 'first' indicate time?

Hello inci.yildirim,

We use past simple to show sequences of actions. The past perfect is used when one action occurs before another and the two actions are connected in some way. For example, the earlier action might cause the later one, or might change its meaning. In question 7, for instance, the past perfect is used because the fact the homework is not finished is the reason why Sara can't go for a walk. In your example, however, the two actions do not influence each other in any way; they are simply separate actions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team