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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

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Past perfect and past simple

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Past perfect and hypotheses

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

Comments

Hello stanraw88

The verb forms in the sentence you ask about are grammatically correct, though without knowing what the context is, I can't really say whether they are correct for the situation.

People often use 'so' in this way in informal speaking, but I would recommend changing it to something like 'really' instead.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I have a real problem to understand the use of before followed by the past perfect as in She bought a new car before she had sold the old one. By couldn't bought be a past perfect if it is the action that happened first?

Hello Dayan

You could indeed say 'She had bought a new car before she sold the old one' and the use of the past perfect for 'buy' in this way makes more sense to me too. I'm afraid I can't explain the sentence that you ask about without knowing more about the context it was written in -- sorry!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Dayan

Yes, it sounds as if you understand it correctly, though if you said 'he had bought a car before he sold the old one', it's not completely clear that he hadn't even placed an ad or not yet -- the verb tenses just aren't that specific.

Unfortunately, it's not too uncommon to find an unclear sentence in textbooks. Although it seems as if they should not be difficult to write, it's actually quite difficult to write good ones, as language is so contextual. Anyway, if you find a sentence like this again in the future, it's good to try to understand it so that you can learn from it, but sometimes you come across one that it's better to just ignore and forget.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Can I use either "got" or "had got" or both in the following sentence?
- After I had got to the stadium, I realized that the match had already started.
I think we can't use "had got" as there is another past perfect "had started"
Thank you

Hello Ahmed,

You can use 'had got'. This is not because there is another past perfect, but rather because the action of arriving at (get to) the stadium comes before another action in the past (realise).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Is it correct to use the past perfect tense to express past habits like in the following sentence?
- I had always arranged my things before I went to bed.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that is correct as long as the habit is no longer true: I had always... but now I don't worry about that sort of thing.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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