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Past perfect

Level: intermediate

The past perfect is made from the verb had and the past participle of a verb:

I had finished the work.
She had gone.

The past perfect continuous is made from had been and the -ing form of a verb:

had been working there for a year.
They had been painting the bedroom.

The past perfect is used in the same way as the present perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present. We use the past perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past:

When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

For this use, we often use the past perfect continuous:

She didn't want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.
Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.

  • for something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point:

He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.
He had written three books and he was working on another one.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past and is important at a later time in the past

I couldn't get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn't at home. She had gone shopping.

We often use expressions with for and since with the past perfect:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there for ten years
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.

We do not normally use the past perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the past perfect simple instead:

Up until that moment, I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in astrology.

Past perfect


Past perfect and past simple


Past perfect and hypotheses

We can also use the past perfect to make hypotheses about the past (when we imagine something). See these pages:


so, what is the difference between the two sentences?
- I had always arranged my things before I went to bed.
- I always arranged my things before I went to bed.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The first sentence (had always) would be used as part of a narrative, in which the speaker/writer is describing how things were before another time in the past, after which they were different. For example:

When I went to university I became a very messy person. I had always arranged my things before I went to bed, but at university I started leaving them all over the floor...


The second sentence simply describes the past. It does not suggest this comes before any other action in the past.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your explanation
for this example:
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

why you didn't use the present perfect? I can't understand where is the past tine here

Can we use ago" With past perfect tense

If yes give me some examples

Hello Amit12148

By far the most common tense used with 'ago' is the past simple, but it is possible (though relatively rare) to use it with the past perfect. For example:

Three years ago, I had already moved to Spain.

Instead, we commonly use 'earlier' or 'prior' when the point of time is in the past, e.g. 'He had moved to Spain six years earlier'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

when I had arrive, my father was watching TV. is it true ?

Hi wolfie95

No, the past simple is the correct form here: 'When I arrived, my father was watching TV.'

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Is it alright to say 'I have been watching that program every week.' Is it grammatically correct?
Thank you.

Hello Lal
Yes, that is grammatically correct and natural for an appropriate situation.
All the best
The LearnEnglish Team

In your explanation above, there is the following sentence:
"They had been staying with us since the previous week."
Is it better to say "for the previous week"
What is the difference?
Thank you.