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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:


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.

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.