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.

  • The Romans had spoken Latin

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 sir when we use continue double had in a sentence pls

Hello Ayub ali khan,

We make the past perfect with [had + past participle]. For example:

I had looked

She had gone

We had seen

'Had' can also be the past participle of 'have', so if we make a sentence with 'have' and we want to put it into the past perfect then the result is:

I had had

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

plz solve one more problem i am confused about when to use 'be' in sentence i only know that 'be' uses in passive Voice i want to any other use of 'be'

Hello Ayub ali khan,

I'm afraid this is too general a question for us to answer here. 'Be' has many roles in English and to list and explain them all would require a very long explanation, which is not the purpose of these comments sections. If you have a particular example then we'll be happy to try to explain it, but please remember that our role here is to maintain the site; answering questions is something we can do only when time allows.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there
I wanted to ask a question about vocabulary how to improve it, and i have Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis can i use this book for vocabulary particularly for IELTS. For me its taking too long 3 to 4hrs per day learn new words.

Hello omprakash,

I'd recommend you read our advice on learning vocabulary on our Help page. Our MyWordBook 2 and IELTS Word Power apps are designed to help with vocabulary acquisition and TakeIELTS has an app called 1001 ways that might also be of interest to you.

By the way, please try to post your comments on a relevant page. For example, this comment would make much more sense on our IELTS or Vocabulary Games pages.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team


can we write sentence like below if not why plz explain

All the books is belonging to me

Hello Ayub ali khan,

We'll be happy to answer your question but please post it on a relevant page - this is a page about the past perfect, not the present continuous. Posting questions on relevant pages helps other users find the information.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there! Is it possible to combine past perfect and past continuous in one sentence?
Ex. I had slept when someone was turning on and off the lights.

Thank you in advance.