Past perfect

Do you know how to use phrases like They'd finished the project by March or Had you finished work when I called?

Look at these examples to see how the past perfect is used.

He couldn't make a sandwich because he'd forgotten to buy bread.
The hotel was full, so I was glad that we'd booked in advance.
My new job wasn't exactly what I’d expected.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Time up to a point in the past

We use the past perfect simple (had + past participle) to talk about time up to a certain point in the past.

She'd published her first poem by the time she was eight. 
We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain.
Had the parcel arrived when you called yesterday?

Past perfect for the earlier of two past actions

We can use the past perfect to show the order of two past events. The past perfect shows the earlier action and the past simple shows the later action.

When the police arrived, the thief had escaped.

It doesn't matter in which order we say the two events. The following sentence has the same meaning.

The thief had escaped when the police arrived.

Note that if there's only a single event, we don't use the past perfect, even if it happened a long time ago.

The Romans spoke Latin. (NOT The Romans had spoken Latin.)

Past perfect with before

We can also use the past perfect followed by before to show that an action was not done or was incomplete when the past simple action happened.

They left before I'd spoken to them.
Sadly, the author died before he'd finished the series.

Adverbs

We often use the adverbs already (= 'before the specified time'), still (= as previously), just (= 'a very short time before the specified time'), ever (= 'at any time before the specified time') or never (= 'at no time before the specified time') with the past perfect. 

I called his office but he'd already left.
It still hadn't rained at the beginning of May.
I went to visit her when she'd just moved to Berlin.
It was the most beautiful photo I'd ever seen.
Had you ever visited London when you moved there?
I'd never met anyone from California before I met Jim.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Past perfect: 2

 

Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.

Language level

Hello maynaing,

I'm afraid this is much too complex a question to answer in such a short comment! The present perfect related the past to the present in a number of ways, which you can see on our page on the present perfect. The past perfect is similar, but relates an earlier past to a later past, as you can see on our page on the past perfect. You might also find this page on the perfective aspect in general useful.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Why is it that the instructions say "DO NOT USE CONTINUOUS TENSES. And yet after my quiz, I had mistakes so i clicked on the "Show Answers" and some answers were "had been burgled"... etc,... ? -- #confused

Hello aisha_aamir,

Continuous tenses are those which use 'be + verb-ing', such as 'I am going' or 'He will be sleeping'. The example you give ('had been burgled') is a past perfect passive form, not a continuous form.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ajaz ajju,

The past perfect needs a past time context - it must refer to a past time, showing an action or state which is before that past time. However, that context does not need to be in the same sentence. It could be in another sentence, or it could be implied by the topic of discussion.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, i have a question in mind . can we use the past perfect with the present ? because i came across these sentence: 1. we had studied six new tenses so far and we are going to learn more this semester. 2.Bob wants to buy a new car. He had owned this one for ten years. 3. linda is still sick. She had had a bad cold for over a week. is this perhaps aa exception for " historic present" ?!!

Hello nasder,

Perfect forms are dependent on time-relations, and so the context is important, and it is hard to be completely sure when looking at sentences in isolation.

We use the past perfect for actions or events which had an effect in the past. Your first sentence describes an activity which has an effect in the present and so the present perfect would seem to be appropriate:

We have studied six new tenses so far and we are going to learn more this semester.

The same is true for the other two sentences. Where an action or state is still true at the time of speaking, or where it has a result at the time of speaking, we use the present perfect rather than the past perfect. To use the past perfect there needs to be another past time reference.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

Hi, I've learned that the present perfect cannot be used with when-question. How about the past perfect? Is it possible to use it in when-questions? If possible, what kind of context allows it to occur? Regards, K_H

Hello K_H,

Most of the time, that's probably true, but I'm not sure I'd say that it's true that the present perfect is never used with 'when'. For example, 'When have I ever lied to you?' is correct. I can't think of a 'when' question that uses the past perfect off the top of my head, but I expect there may be some situations when it would be appropriate.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teachers, "Product development of the watch had begun in March 2014 and the team launched a marketing campaign to sell it on 13 June 2015." The sentence above uses past perfect to tell us that product development comes before its launch. My question: Is that necessary to use past perfect here? (1) It is not important to tell the sequence of the two actions (product development and launching) in the sentence. Of course a product needs to be developed before launching. (2) Specific time is given for the two actions (March 2014 and 13 June 2015). No ambiquity is there at all. (3) Using simple past tense for both actions can do the job. Please kindly advise. Thank you.

Hello David,

You are right – it is not necessary to use the past perfect here and the past simple would work just as well for the reasons you describe.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher, sorry for asking a lot of questions,, could you please look at this: IF am a chef and i go to interview with a new restaurant: he asked me about my previous jobs so any of these sentences are better and which one is completely wring,thank you in advance - I worked as a pizza chef at PIzza Hot for 2 years. -I had worked as a pizza chef at Pizza Hot for 2 years. -I had been working as a pizza chef at Pizza Hot for 2 years.

Hello ronaz2015,

The first sentence is the best choice. The other two sentences would only be used if you were also referring to another past time and to changes. For example:

I had worked as a pizza chef at Pizza Hot for 2 years before I got promoted to Head Chef.

I had been working as a pizza chef at Pizza Hot for 2 years by that time.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello.first thank you for answering our questions. I have an question here about using simple past for period of time in the past and as i know we use present perfect for this so i am confused. So what the difference in meaning bettwen these two sentences : I lived in Kurdistan for two years. I have lived in Kurdistan for two years.

Hello ronaz2015,

In the first sentence 'lived' the speaker no longer lives in Kurdistan. In the second sentence the speaker still lives there.

The past simple describes finished actions or states in the past. The present perfect links a past action or state to the present.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I don't know exactly which came first, British Council's version of Past Perfect (maybe 1 June 2015) or BBC 6 Minute Grammar (16 June 2015), but their examples used are very similar. BBC's 1st example was "Mary rang John's doorbell at 8:15 yesterday, but John had gone to work." Others were "I was pleased when I got a text from Jim, because I'd lost his number" and "When Mrs Brown opened the washing machine she realised she'd washed her phone." It really doesn't matter as both British Council and BBC are both excellent resources, but I'm curious as to whether there is a link between them. Just wondering . . .

Hello Linda,

Although we do collaborate with the BBC from time to time on specific projects (e.g. Word on the Street), as far as I know, there is no link between the writing of this page and the BBC. This page on LearnEnglish was created in 2008, but it's likely been updated since then – although we could probably figure out exactly when it was written, I'm afraid we just don't have the time to devote to that. In any case, as you point out, both pages are useful resources.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I read my little cousin's homework yesterday and I saw a demonstrative paragraph in it and I just copied the paragraph below: "Last summer, I had an awful experience. I woke up early one morning and I saw a stranger from the balcony. I tried to call my dad but he has not returned my call yet. I was so scared. Then I called 999. Luckily, the police came after a few minutes." I am a bit confused about the sentence "I tried to call my dad but he has not returned my call yet. " Should present perfect tense really be used rather than past perfect tense in the sentence? Is this sentence perfectly written in the paragraph? Thank you for answering my question~~

Hello tssang,

The mixing of tenses here does not seem correct to me. I would say that the tenses in the narrative should be consistent and so past perfect would be correct, as you say.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Peter or other kind helper, If you think "the mixing of tenses here does not seem correct to me", would you please rewrite the paragraph ? I know it takes your valuable time but I really wonder how it should be fixed... Thank you very much

Hello tssang,

The only correction needed is in the sentence which you highlighted. This should read:

...but he did not return my call.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Peter or other kind helped, I guess the writer put perfect tense ( HAS not returned my call yet ) in that sentence because the writer wanted to show that the father did return call, but he was late as the child couldn't wait and called the police. He might have called back right after the police caught the stranger .If so, will it seem right to you for saying "I tried to call my dad but he HAD not returned my call yet." ? Or still "did not return my call " is better ? Thank you !

Hello tssang,

'Has' here would imply the the speaker is still waiting for the return call now, which is rather unlikely as the situation has resolved itself. Therefore 'had' would be the correct form.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I'm confused can we use an other sentence in past besides past simple? Or simple past passive voice? Like for example: Joes had had his new car for 3 days when it was stolen 2. Don was feeling tired because she hadn't slept well the night before.

Hello mexbm,

Yes, those sentences are fine. All past forms have in common a past time reference, but past perfect forms are used when there are two time references. For example, in your sentences the time references are:

having the car and the car being stolen

feeling tired and not sleeping well

If we have only one time reference then we use the past simple.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

plz tell me can we use both and what is difference in meaning of these two sentences 1 SSC had conducted exam 2 SSC conducted exam i know that first sentence in past perfect and second in simple past but sometime i confuse what to use thnxx

Hello Ayub ali khan,

The uses of the two forms are described on the page above. Both refer to past events, but the past perfect needs another event or time reference as it must be before another event; we do not use the past perfect on its own, but rather to show that one event was before another, and had some kind of influence on it.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ayub ali khan,

We make the past perfect with [had + past participle]. For example:

I had looked

She had gone

We had seen

'Had' can also be the past participle of 'have', so if we make a sentence with 'have' and we want to put it into the past perfect then the result is:

I had had

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thnx plz solve one more problem i am confused about when to use 'be' in sentence i only know that 'be' uses in passive Voice i want to any other use of 'be'

Hello Ayub ali khan,

I'm afraid this is too general a question for us to answer here. 'Be' has many roles in English and to list and explain them all would require a very long explanation, which is not the purpose of these comments sections. If you have a particular example then we'll be happy to try to explain it, but please remember that our role here is to maintain the site; answering questions is something we can do only when time allows.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there I wanted to ask a question about vocabulary how to improve it, and i have Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis can i use this book for vocabulary particularly for IELTS. For me its taking too long 3 to 4hrs per day learn new words.

Hello omprakash,

I'd recommend you read our advice on learning vocabulary on our Help page. Our MyWordBook 2 and IELTS Word Power apps are designed to help with vocabulary acquisition and TakeIELTS has an app called 1001 ways that might also be of interest to you.

By the way, please try to post your comments on a relevant page. For example, this comment would make much more sense on our IELTS or Vocabulary Games pages.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there! Is it possible to combine past perfect and past continuous in one sentence? Ex. I had slept when someone was turning on and off the lights. Thank you in advance.

Hello moonshadow1008,

It is possible, but not in this way. The past perfect shows an action at a time before another action in the past which is in some way related to it. The second action needs to be on ongoing activity for the continuous to be appropriate, which means it need a quite particular context. For example:

I had forgotten that she was walking home.

I had already finished the exam but she was still writing it.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter. Thank you for your response. I am a little confuse though. In what particular context can we use past continuous with past perfect? Could you explain further? Is there a certain name for that context? Thank you.

Hi moodshadow1008,

I'm not sure what else I can say - the answer I gave gives as clear a definition as I can:

The past perfect shows an action at a time before another action in the past; the second action needs to be on ongoing activity for the continuous to be appropriate.

It also provides two examples. There is no name for the context - it is just a logical context for the meanings of the tenses.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

..hi can someone clear my mind about when do we use to/for?? please send me more examples.thanks

Hi iamginalynlopez,

These words are used in a great variety of ways, far too many for me to list here! You can see definitions and examples in our Cambridge Dictionaries Online (just type the word into the search window and click 'Look it up!'). If you have any particular examples you'd like to ask about then we'll be happy to try to explain them for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I’d like to ask something about “Question Tags”. Are the following tags correct? If not, pls kindly tell me the right answers with explanations. Thanks in advance. 1) We needn’t take part in the contest, need we? 2) I wish to buy a new piano, may I? 3) She wishes she can have a new dress, may she? 4) One must never desert one’s friends, must they? 5) Nothing will ever change my dad’s mind, will it? 6) Neither A nor B will help us, will they? 7) I think she will help you, won’t she? 8) None of us will fail the test, shall we? 9) Let me help, will you? 10) Everyone in this class may be the champion, mayn’t they? 11) David ought to study harder, oughtn’t he? 12) Little information was available, was it? 13) What a great movie, isn’t it?

Hello bnpl,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm afraid we don't do users homework. Have you looked at our question tags page? There you can find an explanation with an exercise, which should help you be more confident of your understanding.

If there are a few questions you are particularly unsure, please feel free to ask us about them, but we don't review long lists of sentences like this - better for you to do that on your own.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, everyone! I’m a new member here. I’ve wanted to improve my English. Hope that I can get help from anyone of you. Thanks a lot in advance.
Hi! I have a question, hope you can help me. If I say "these are the pictures I had taken during my year in Canada" for example, is this correct? Why? I mean, this phrase should not have two verbs (one as Past Perfect and one as Simple Past) to be correct? I saw this phrase at some webpage and now I'm wondering if it's right. thanks!

Hi gabiirosa,

I'm afraid this depends on the context. It could be an example of 'causative have' - you 'had the pictures taken' by someone else, who you paid to do it. It could be part of a broader context in which the year in Canada is an earlier past time, referenced in that context. Or it could be a mistake and the past simple may be a better alternative. It really is not possible to say for sure from just the sentence in isolation.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can someone clarify this I read an article and I have a doubt about its grammar because the title is (did you know) Why it can be do you know because it's present tense (why past tense is used) If it's correct can I use did you know in every conversation/writing If it's wrong, please clarify do you know vs did you know

Hello Rafael darn,

We use 'did you know' to ask about the past, and 'do you know' to ask about the present.

Did you know John when you were a student? [The speaker knows that I know John now; he is asking about the past]

Do you know John? [The speaker is asking about the present - about now]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hey guys I want to ask a question about fluency in English My friend is pretty darn good at English and he really is fluent whenever he has a coversation with people(not infront of crowd just like casual conversation with anyone). everyone likes him because he can converse in English well even my English teachers always praise him how good he speaks English (almost like the native level) but I don't think he's fluent enough because everytime he gives a speech spontaneously in front of crowd his English is really terrible especially his grammar (happens during giving a speech/talk only). Sometimes I am doubting him because during speech/talk time only I can see his English is a disaster really terrible disorganized words Then I ask him the reason he can't speak English very well during speech in front of unknown people but can speak very well with anyone ( He hardly makes a mistake) he encounters. Then he says he's nervous in front of a lot of people and it makes his brain mentally blank, he doesn't know what to say like completely blank no ideas to talk spontaneously. Guys out there is he weird because in my opinion if one is really fluent in English surely can speak in front crowd. If Nervous is the problem how can I help him because he is my friend.
hello english teachers out there Can you explain to me about : This kind/type of thing This kind/type of things These kinds/types of thing These kinds/types of things Do we say this kind of person or kind of people? 2. A lot of people vs a lot person A lot of man vs a lot men Usually after a lot of we use plural form is it correct

Hello Rafael,

First of all, please note that this general topic is covered on our quantifiers page - please be sure to have a look. When 'kind' or 'type' is singular, you should say 'this'; when you use 'kinds' or 'types' (plural), you should say 'these'. What comes after 'of' is most often singular or plural depending on what you mean.

'a lot of' is used with plural count nouns or uncount nouns, but not with singular count nouns. Therefore 'a lot of man' is not generally correct (only when 'man' is used as an uncount noun, which is rare) and 'a lot of person' is not correct. Note that 'a lot men' is not correct, either - the 'of' is necessary: 'a lot of men'.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team