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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,

I would like to ask which is correct:
1. Was he scolded?
2. Is he scolded?

I am confused when to use Is/Was if the verb is supposed to happen in the past.
For example:

Statement: The teacher caught Jean stealing exam questions the other day.
Question: Was he scolded? or Is he scolded?

Please clarify which of the question is correct.

P.S.
Did he get scolded? (is this the more 'correct' way of asking it?)

Best regards,
Eir

Hello Eir,

If the action happened in the past then the correct form is 'was scolded'. We would use the form 'is scolded' when talking about general time - things that happen typically or all the time rather than in one concrete instance.

As an aside, 'scold' is quite an unusual word with a rather literary ring to it. 'Tell off' is much more common in everyday conversation so the most likely question in your example would be Was he told off?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

What is the difference between

"She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life."
"She didn’t want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life."

Does the first sentence indicate that the action is finished, or the person had died? while the second sentence indicate that the person is still living in Liverpool?

Hello sandwich87,

It depends on the context, but probably it is more a difference of emphasis. The second one emphasises the moment in which she was considering moving a bit more than the first one, but otherwise, unless there were a very specific context that indicated the contrary, they mean the same thing. The emphasis the continuous form suggests could, for example, be a way the writer tries to get us to imagine her experience in that moment a bit more vividly.

It's a subtle difference that is difficult to explain, but I hope that helps you a little bit. If not, please ask us again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi,

1. What is difference between 'she went' and 'she had gone' ?

I would like to say that 'had' is used for past perfect tense i.e when two actions performed in the past then first actions should be expressed in the past perfect.
For example: She had gone to office before I reached home.
I this example 'she had gone' is the fist action completed and ' I reached home' is action took after the 1st action.

2. My doubt here is : Some times we mention had only for single action without mentioning the second action. Please see below examples
i. I had the time to help my daughter
ii. They had trouble remembering
iii. They have never had a course in money or how to invest it
iv. They had difficulty grasping the relationship between their Income Statement and their Balance Sheet

All the above four examples I got from the novel I was reading.

Please clarify my doubts.. as these doubt are hovering in my for few years.

Hi nareshk,

You are correct to a point when you say 'had' is used for past perfect tense i.e when two actions performed in the past then first actions should be expressed in the past perfect. However, there is more to it than this. First of all, the past perfect is formed not only with 'had' but with [had + past participle]. Second, there needs to be a relationship of some kind between the two actions. If we are simply describing actions which happen in sequence then the past simple is used:

I arrived at work and had a cup of coffee.

We use the past perfect when there is a relationship as well as a sequence:

I was late and she had already left.

 

 

Your examples are not examples of the past perfect. As I said, the past perfect needs [had + past participle]. Your examples are as follows:

 

i. I had the time to help my daughter [a normal past simple ('had') followed by an object ('the time'); the construction here is 'have the time/money/energy/motivation (etc) to do something']


ii. They had trouble remembering [another normal past simple ('had') followed by an object ('trouble')' the construction here is 'have trouble/problems/difficulty (etc) doing something]

 

iii. They have never had a course in money or how to invest it [a present perfect form using the verb 'have' ('have had')]

 

iv. They had difficulty grasping the relationship between their Income Statement and their Balance Sheet [see example ii above]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good Morning,
As mentioned above ,[We use the verb had and the past participle for the past perfect:] and[The past perfect continuous is formed with had been and the -ing form of the verb:]

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

in 1st sentence: had+married[past participle for marry] : then why been here and what does it mean by placing here.

In 2nd sentence had+lived[past participle] : why been is not used here.

I mean to ask , why sometimes we use had been and have been [ exculding the past perfect and present perfect continuous sentences] in a sentence, what does it means.

Hello asr09,

The form here is [have/has + past participle] or [had + past participle]. In your example 'been' is the past participle of the verb 'be':

They are (present)

They were (past)

They have been {present pefect)

'Married' here is an adjective. It has the same form as the past participle of the verb 'marry' but it is an adjective in this sentence, just as in the phrase 'a married couple'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good Morning,
Thank you for answering , Mr peter.
1)I meant to say , do we use , have/has+been or had+ been with only adjectives in sentences.[ as you said married is an adjective ]
Had + been +married
[have form as helping verb]+[be form in past participle as a main verb + adjective].
2)You have not used been with had lived because lived is a main verb in the sentence.
3) Do we use Have/has+been or Had+been in only passive sentence or other types of sentences also?
4)How do we come to know married is an adjective or a verb?

Hello asr09,

The form 'have been' is the present perfect of 'be' and can be used in many ways. It can be followed by an adjective or by a noun, as in 'I have been a teacher for twenty years', for example. It is a normal verb form.

'Have been' can also be used as an auxiliary - as part of certain verb forms. For example, we might say 'She has been living there for twenty years' (present perfect continuous) or 'She has been sacked from her job' (present perfect passive).

We recognise 'married' as an adjective through the context. It is possible for the verb 'marry' to be used in a passive form (example: 'They were married by the archbishop himself') but this would require a very clear context.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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