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.





Hi moodshadow1008,

I'm not sure what else I can say - the answer I gave gives as clear a definition as I can:

The past perfect shows an action at a time before another action in the past; the second action needs to be on ongoing activity for the continuous to be appropriate.

It also provides two examples. There is no name for the context - it is just a logical context for the meanings of the tenses.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

..hi can someone clear my mind about when do we use to/for?? please send me more examples.thanks

Hi iamginalynlopez,

These words are used in a great variety of ways, far too many for me to list here! You can see definitions and examples in our Cambridge Dictionaries Online (just type the word into the search window and click 'Look it up!'). If you have any particular examples you'd like to ask about then we'll be happy to try to explain them for you.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

I’d like to ask something about “Question Tags”. Are the following tags correct? If not, pls kindly tell me the right answers with explanations. Thanks in advance.

1) We needn’t take part in the contest, need we?
2) I wish to buy a new piano, may I?
3) She wishes she can have a new dress, may she?
4) One must never desert one’s friends, must they?
5) Nothing will ever change my dad’s mind, will it?
6) Neither A nor B will help us, will they?
7) I think she will help you, won’t she?
8) None of us will fail the test, shall we?
9) Let me help, will you?
10) Everyone in this class may be the champion, mayn’t they?
11) David ought to study harder, oughtn’t he?
12) Little information was available, was it?
13) What a great movie, isn’t it?

Hello bnpl,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm afraid we don't do users homework. Have you looked at our question tags page? There you can find an explanation with an exercise, which should help you be more confident of your understanding.

If there are a few questions you are particularly unsure, please feel free to ask us about them, but we don't review long lists of sentences like this - better for you to do that on your own.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

Thank you for your response.

l’m sorry for making you think that l was asking someone to do my homework. What I’d like to say is that l’m not a student and I don’t have to do any homework. I used to do all of my homework myself when I was a student. I’m just interested in English and want to learn more about it. Actually, the question tags which I’d like someone to check for me were almost done on my own. (Only 2 of them which I really don’t know how to do were from my colleague.)

Thank you for telling me about the “Question Tags” page which I’ve read already. Still, there are some statements that I’ve got no idea on what tags should be used. Before knowing about the British Council’s Iearning English website, I had checked out the relevant topic in “English Grammar in Use” written by Raymond Murphy, my nephew’s textbook as well as other learning English websites, no example sentences which are similar to some of those I was questioning about.

I’ll post those questions which I’m unsure and I don’t know on the relevant page again. l really hope that someone will give me a helping hand to solve my problems which has existed in my mind for quite a long time.

Thank you!

Best rgds,

Hello bnpl,

I think a good place to post your question is this page. That is a page about questions, though not question tags specifically.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello bnpl,

I understand, and I hope you understand why we might think that what you posted was a homework task. We have to be careful!

It's not really possible for us to go through such a long list of examples and explain each one. Please remember that our main job is to maintain the site and add new material; helping users with questions they have is something we do when we have time, and writing long explanations of multiple examples simply isn't feasible for us.

Please choose two or three examples and we'll be happy to comment on them for you. Please also post them in the comments section on the question tags page, so that other users who are learning about question tags will be able to see your question and our answer and learn from it.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,

Thank you for letting me know something about the job of The LearnEnglish Team. I thought some teachers were there to deal with the problems about English of English learners. Actually, the fact is not what I supposed.

Anyway, I’d like thank the LearnEnglish Team members for the time contributed to answering my questions about English.

By the way, the comments section on the “Question Tags” page cannot be found. Now that I’ve no idea where to post the relevant questions. Would you please get back to me what I should do at your earliest convenience?

Thank you for your kind attention.


Hi, everyone! I’m a new member here. I’ve wanted to improve my English. Hope that I can get help from anyone of you. Thanks a lot in advance.