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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:


Hello Ahmed Imam,
There is a difference in meaning:
> 'since the previous week' - this means that the staying began in the previous week and continued from then
> 'for the previous week' - this means that the staying was for the period of the previous week (it lasted from the beginning of the previous week to the end of the previous week).
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
I have just read the following explanation on a website.
When we say last week/month/year, etc. without the, we mean the week/month/year
immediately before the current one. When we say the last week/month/year, etc., we mean the 7/30/365 days immediately before this one.
If I am speaking on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, then
Last week means the week from Sunday, October 28, 2012 to Saturday, November 3, 2012.
The last week means the seven days before today, Wednesday, October 31 to today, November 6.
Last month means October 2012.
The last month means October 7 to today, November 6.
Last year means 2011.
The last year means November 7, 2011 to today, November 6.
So on November 6, 2012, these sentences mean the following:
I was sick last month. = I was sick some time in October. I don’t say for how long. I’m not sick now.
I’ve been sick since last month. = I got sick some time in October, and I’m still sick. I don’t say for how long I’ve been sick because I don’t say when in October I became sick. (I could say I’ve been sick since early/mid/late October if I want to give more detail.)
I’ve been sick for the last month. = I got sick 30 days ago and I’m still sick.
What do you think of That explanation? Is it correct? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I'm afraid we don't comment on explanations from elsewhere. Our policy to offer our own material but not get into critiquing what other sites or books might have to say.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dear mentors and happy new year.
Hope you all are doing well.
Just i have a question about past perfect continous and past continous ,i really confused what is different between them and when should i choose one of them ,to get right sentence???
please give me some advice to realize.
Thanks in advance.

Hello Ali boroki

I would first recommend you read our talking about the past page, where the differences between these tenses is explained. If you have any specific questions after that, please feel free to ask us there. It would help if you gave an example, even if you're not sure that it's correct.

All the best
The LearnEnglish Team

Hope you are doing well, I would like you to explain the following one.

I know that if we use the "be with pastpatrticiable however, where we can use "Be with ing "( continues tense ) please explain

Hi Mohammed,

'be' is used to form any continuous tense -- please see our present continuous page for some examples.

Is that what you mean? I'm not sure I've understood your question. If you meant something else, please give us an example and we'll do our best to help you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Is this sentence correct?
No no has attended to fix it even though the visit had been cheduled for this Monday

Hello Joanna,

No, that sentence is not correct. I can't be completely sure, not knowing the full context, but I think what you want to say is probably this:

No-one has been to fix it, even though the visit was scheduled for Monday.


However, I think the natural way to express it would be as follows:

Someone was supposed to come on Monday, but we are still waiting.




The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir
Please let me know the following sentences are right or wrong because I have doubts.
While my mother was cooking, the power went off.
While my mother has been cooking, the power went off. ( I think this is wrong-present perfect cont.) but while my mother had been cooking, the power went off.
Thank you.