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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, when do we use "I had never had" ?

Hello angeeeeeeel,

There are so many situations in which 'I had never had' could be used that I can't possibly describe them all, but I'll give you one example sentence:

'I had never had butter in my tea before I went to Tibet.'

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Starting at Ban Pong and crossing the bridge on the river Kwai in
Kanchanaburi, the railway line had once snaked its way through two hundred and fifty miles of dense jungle to the town of Thanbyuzayat in Burma.

Hi Team

Could you help me with the sentence that I’ve posted?
I have read that the past perfect tense goes with the simple past tense. Is that always the case? I think my sentence uses the past perfect (had once snaked) with a participle clause (or phrase, I’m not sure which).
Firstly, is it a grammatically correct sentence?
Secondly, is it grammatically acceptable to split ‘had snaked’ with ‘once’? (As in ‘had once snaked’)

Thank you so much for your help.


Hello Lexeus,

It's perfectly fine to put an adverb (once) between the auxilliary verb (had) and the past participle (snaked).

As far as the use of the past perfect in your example goes, it requires a past time reference point, but this may be included in the broader context in which the sentence appears. The use of the past perfect implies that the situation later (but still in the past) changed.



The LearnEnglish Team

What is the difference in meaning between these following sentences:

1. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.

2. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I ever had.

3. My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I have ever had.

Hello Dukul,

All of the sentences are grammatically possible. The first sentence suggests that the birthday was the worst day then, but may have since been superseded by something even worse. The second sentence tells us that the birthday is still the worst day and suggests that that fact will never change. The third sentence is similar to the second, but suggests that a worse day may still come along at some point.


In general, the choice of verb forms like this to use depends on the context in which you are going to use it and what you want to say. Is the sentence part of a narrative? Is it direct speech? Are there other events which form a context for the sentence?



The LearnEnglish Team

could anyone please explain to me which grammatical rule (or rules) warrants the use of the past simple tense after 'since' in the sentence used in the explanatory section above:

I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.
Isn't the action of starting the programme earlier than my watching it. Why then the earlier action is expressed in the Past Simple and the action following it in the Past Perfect.
This issue has been bothering me for some time now, and I sieved through some of my old grammar books and came across some other instances of this tense use, here they are:
* We hardly recognized each other, because we hadn't met since we were young.(B.D. Graver. "Advanced English Practice. Oxford U. Press. 1990. page 85")
* We all knew he had been drinking heavily since his wife died. (op. cit.)
* He had been a soldier, since he was seventeen, and planned to stay in the army. (A.J. Thomson, A.V. Martinet. A Practical English Grammar, Fourth Edition. Oxford University Press, 2001. page 175)
I also found a sentence which, I would say, is more along the lines of what I believe or imagine I know about the use of the Past Perfect:
* His father had died four years before and since then Tom had lived alone. (Thomson, Martinet. p.176) By the way, can this sentence be transformed into the following one: "Tom had lived alone since his father died."

I would like to know why the Past Simple is used in the above clauses after "since". The coursebooks I cited only mention that such a tenses sequence is possible with "for" and "since" and they don't delve deeper into the matter. Is it some kind of a language praxis? Why is the Past Simple use after "since" not in violation of the rule that the earlier actions are expressed in the Past Perfect, as this what I imagine is the case with the word "since", which underscores an action earlier in time?
Sorry for all the mistakes I probably made. Thank you in advance for all the responses and explanations. Have a nice day.

Hello. Could you please help me? In the following sentence, can we use the past simple, the past perfect or both? Is there a difference?
- Jane was not as good as her friends as she (had come - came) from a poorer family.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The past simple is the best option here as the verb does not describe a particular action but rather a permanent fact about Jane - something which will always be true and for which we would use the present simple normally, or the past simple in a narrative.



The LearnEnglish Team

Could anyone help me with the prepositions, which one is correct ..i am going to the wedding or i am going for the wedding.