When we talk about something that happened in the past we sometimes want to refer back to something that happened before that time. We can use the past perfect tense (had + past participle) to do this.

 


Look at these two sentences.

 

  • John left the house at 7:30 yesterday morning.
  • Mary rang John’s doorbell at 8:15 yesterday.

Both actions happened in the past so we use the past simple tense. But look at how we can combine the sentences.

  • Mary rang John’s doorbell at 8:15 yesterday but John had already left the house.

We use the past perfect (had left) because the action happened before another action in the past (Mary rang the doorbell.)

Look at some more examples of the past perfect.

  • When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she had washed the cat.
  • I got a letter from Jim last week. We’d been at school together but we’d lost touch with each other.

The past perfect is used because they were at school before he received the letter. It refers to an earlier past.

Look at these 2 sentences.

  • James had cooked breakfast when we got up.
  • James cooked breakfast when we got up.

In the first sentence, the past perfect tells us that James cooked breakfast before we got up. In the second sentence, first we got up and then James cooked breakfast.

Past perfect continuous

The past perfect can also be used in the continuous.

  • I realised I had been working too hard so I decided to have a holiday.
  • By the time Jane arrived we had been waiting for 3 hours.

NOTE
The most common mistake with the past perfect is to overuse it or to use it simply because we are talking about a time in the distant past.

For example we would not say

The Romans had spoken Latin

but rather

The Romans spoke Latin

because it simply describes a past event, and not an event before and relevant to another past event.

Remember that we only use the past perfect when we want to refer to a past that is earlier than another time in the narrative.

 

Exercise

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Comments

Hi everyone,
can anyone tell me the sentence " I knew Johnson for 15 minutes" is possible and correct as i am trying to suggest that Johnson was alive before 15 minutes so at that time i met him but shockly i get news about him that he was passed away, so is it correct to say " I knew johnson for 15 minutes"?

Hello leonardo999,

Yes, that sentence is correct in that context.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Respectful sir,
Primarly i want to thank all of the ones who cooperated and worked in creating such an amazing cultural and educational site that always helps us in solving linguistic matters. Anyway, for my concerns i would like to ask you that the sentence i have provided to you below is correct according to grammer ,if not please explain it to me because this sentence is proven wrong by some online digital grammer checkers online.

I spread peace and love when i had known the world is sacred. ( is it correct in accordance to grammer in general)

SOURCE:
I Learned How To Sing When Love Became My Major...
I Learned How To Dance When Music Became My Favourite...
I Spread Peace And Love When I Had Known The World Is Sacred...
I Was Gone From This World When My Mission Had Been Faded...
I Always Loved Ones Though They Related Me To The Hatred...
And I will Haunt You Forever With That Peace You Had To Never...

I will be thankful if you explain it in detail.
LEO

Hello leonardo999,

It's hard without knowing the context to be sure what the correct form should be of the sentence, but the verb form in the second half of the sentence needs to be changed. I suspect also that 'know' is not the correct verb here as you appear to be using it as an action or dynamic verb rather than a state verb; for this meaning you need to say 'get to know' or 'learn'.

I think the correct sentence would be:

I spread peace and love when i learned (that) the world is sacred.

However, as I said, without the context I cannot be sure that this is the intended meaning.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I,m very happy that i reached the right place.am trying to improve my communication skill, the problem is when am talking geting confused about the tenses and grammar. so im getting stucked
in between the talk. I hope i can overcome the problems and improve it to a good level

Can you please help me with this.....
I have visited Russia several times, but can i say if i am not going there again ( i visited Russia several times)

If the action is not in progress and has already stopped you can use Present Perfect of course, Chamildiss, So: I have been to Russia several times.

Hi chamildiss,

You can say "I have visited" (present perfect) or "I visited" (past simple); whether you return to Russia or not doesn't influence which form to use. The difference between these two forms is a matter of perspective. If you use the present perfect, the implied context is "in my lifetime until now" and if you use the past simple, you're simply stating a fact about the past. Neither of these statements make any suggestion about the future. You might find our talking about the past page useful to review the different forms used to speak about the past.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I prepared worksheets on Past Perfect using this page, a good test I had for my 8th graders...

Dear sir kirk

i'm really happy to be integrated in your social environment. i have a really low level, in the writing, reading and speaking. I need some guidance to learn english because i really have to improve level.

thank you
Mohamed

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