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.





And another question, sorry !
Do (by the time) or (by 1789) has a relation with past perfect ?
And what the meaning of "as well as" ?
And dose this book can help me to support my grammer and vocabiolry or there is a book can help me more ?
I'm sorry for a big number of qusetion

Thanks very much for your replys ..
If in any case the books have an error so I need to read a book that care with grammer for learning ?

I have deja vu, or first two examples I have just seen on bbc learningenglish. So I have idea how to practise past perfect tense: The BBC had published two sentences about Mary and John before LearnEnglish British Council pasted this examples on its site.

Hello clp920,

That doesn't surprise me – 'Mary' and 'John' are extremely common names and are probably used in many, many example sentences. Anyway, we're glad you've joined us.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Please make me confirm between Present perfect vs Past perfect.
Present perfect must rely on present time and past perfect must rely on past time, is it correct?

Hello maynaing,

I'm afraid this is much too complex a question to answer in such a short comment! The present perfect related the past to the present in a number of ways, which you can see on our page on the present perfect. The past perfect is similar, but relates an earlier past to a later past, as you can see on our page on the past perfect. You might also find this page on the perfective aspect in general useful.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Why is it that the instructions say "DO NOT USE CONTINUOUS TENSES. And yet after my quiz, I had mistakes so i clicked on the "Show Answers" and some answers were "had been burgled"... etc,... ? -- #confused

Hello aisha_aamir,

Continuous tenses are those which use 'be + verb-ing', such as 'I am going' or 'He will be sleeping'. The example you give ('had been burgled') is a past perfect passive form, not a continuous form.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir
Can we use past perfect for single sentence?
Eg : I had watched the movie