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.

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.





Hello Mohamed,

We're glad you're here as well! Have you looked around the site? I'd suggest that as a first step, as there are lots of different resources here.

What do you need to use English for? If, for example, you need it to study at university, then I would recommend working through our section on academic writing called Writing for a Purpose. If you need it for work, then I expect that you would find some useful content and practice in our Business & Work section. If you need to get a good mark on the IELTS exam, then our IELTS section would be really helpfu.

If you just want to improve in general and have no specific needs for now, I'd recommend working through different parts of Listen & Watch. Many users find the Elementary Podcasts and Big City Small World to be really helpful, and both have lots of exercises and downloadable content as well.

I hope that gives you some idea of the possibilities here. If your needs are different, then please let us know more specifically what they are, and we'll be happy to guide you.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

Thank you very much for your warm welcome here on the home page ob BC. I need English for my work. I need a crash course in grammar, but please tell me are the audio files also available as a CD? Also the grammar exercises are they available in papier form?

Many thanks in adavnce for your replay.

Hello Damas-72,

The audio files are downloadable individually, but are not available on a CD - though you can make your own CD of them, if you wish.

On many pages (though not this one) you can find a download link for the exercises or for a Support Pack, which includes the exercises and any transcripts of listening texts from the page in a printable form.

I hope that is helpful for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

I'm very happy to stay here in Bristish :)

Hello everyone. I'm a new member here. I'm from Ukraine. English is my hobby and profession at the same time. It's easily for me to understand English but rather difficult to speak and write right. I hope to improve it with your help.

HI i am noorzai from india my english is not very good and for that i am trying this website please help me to improve my english

Hello noorzai,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! There are lots of resources here, and I'd encourage you to look through the different sections to get an idea of the possibilities.

Or, if you already know, for example, that you want to work on your listening or speaking, I'd suggest listening to our audio and video materials (there are several sections under Listen & Watch). There are transcripts and exercises to help you improve your listening comprehension, and you can use the audio as a model that you can imitate to learn new expressions and improve your pronunciation.

Whatever you do, it's best to try to have contact with English every day, even if it's only for a short time. Little by little, you should see that you improve!

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

I'm very happy to stay here!!!

Hi SIr,
I am very happy joining it.
Thank you very much for creating this site.