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)

Submitted by drbindurekab on Thu, 11/07/2024 - 15:18


Greetings sir,

I often get confused with the usage of past perfect and present perfect when words like 'since' and 'for' come in a sentence. Please do clarify my doubt.

Thank you.

Hello drbindurekab,

We use for with a period of time: for six weeks, for an hour, for twenty minutes.

We use since with a point in time: since two days ago, since Thursday, since 6.00.

You can read more about this on this page:


When used with perfect forms these words tell us how long or from which moment an action takes place. The present perfect describes an action continuing up to the present and the past perfect describes an action continuing up to another point in the past:

I have been reading the book for an hour. (sixty minutes has passed during my reading)

I have been reading the book since 12.00. (I started at 12.00 and continue)

She moved to Paris in 2010. When she left last year she had lived there for 13 years.

She had been working in the company since 1990 so it was a shock when she suddenly quit last year.



The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Mariam Frank on Sun, 30/06/2024 - 13:43



Brazil and Real Madrid star Ronaldo is one of the world's greatest footballers - but his career almost ¹ ended (end) at the age of 23, when he was playing in Italy. In November 2001, Ronaldo 2 ran (run) onto the pitch to play for Inter Milan against Lecce. The fans 3 cheered (cheer); he hasn't played - didn't play 4 (not play) for almost two years, since he 5 has damaged - damaged (damage) his knee - also against Lecce. But the crowd went silent after 17 minutes of the match when their hero 6 had fallen down (fall down) and 7 hadn't gotten up (not get up). He 8 injured (injure) his knee again. Even the players on the other team 9  were (be) unhappy when Ronaldo had left  (leave) the field.

Would you mind checking this passage for me? I have difficulty in understanding past perfect and present perfect so, would you please help me


Hello Mariam Frank,

Generally we don't check answers like this as we would just end up not having time for anything else if we tried! Also, we would end up doing people's homework for them, which isn't our role.


You didn't complete some questions:

4 - hadn't played

5 - damaged

Answers 1-3 are good. Answer 9 is good.

6 should be fell down

7 should be didn't get up

8 should be had injured

10 should be left



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by KarenChan0323 on Tue, 18/06/2024 - 13:40


Dear Sir,

1 We arrived before the train had left. In this sentence, 'we arrived' happens first and then 'the train left', while the past perfect means 'the train left' first. Is there a contradiction to the use of the past perfect tense?

2 what's the difference between these two sentences, or do they mean the same?

 We arrived before the train had left.

We arrived before the train left.




Hello Karen,

There is no difference in meaning between the sentences here as 'before' already makes the sequence clear. The past perfect suggests more of a connection between the two events - perhaps they wanted to catch the train or to see someone before they left. The past simple may also mean this or it may simply indicate a simple sequence.



The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening, sir

Look at these sentences and say which of them is correct.

1.No teacher ever told me that I had potential.

2.No teacher never told me that I had potential.

Profile picture for user Artika22

Submitted by Artika22 on Tue, 28/05/2024 - 08:46



Is it correct?

"She had finished her homework, then she went to the park."

Hello Artika22,

If you're describing a sequence of events then past simple is all you need:

She finished her homework, and then she went to the park.

If you want to show a strong connection - one was necessary for the other to be possible, for example - then the past perfect can be used but we would also use a marker such as after, once, as soon as or similar:

After she had finished her homework, she went to the park.

Once she had finished her homework, she went to the park.

As soon as she had finished her homework, she went to the park.



The LearnEnglish Team