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

 

Language level

Intermediate: B1
Dear Sir May i ask you to correct if i am wrong. From my opinion, the "perfect" tense essentially would deliver the meaning of unfinished state, or in a certain unfinished period. Based on different context, can I express as followings Case 1: Context: I used to enjoy apple, but gradually did not like it after some years(not certain), so eventually, i do not like it now. Express: I ate apples, which i had enjoyed since i was a child, and vegetables from my garden. Case 2 Context: Apple is my favorite fruit always. Express: 1. I ate apples, which I have enjoyed since I was a child, and vegetables from my garden. Or even use the simple present tense to express "Apple is my favorite food" as a habit 2. I ate apples, which I enjoy since i was a child, and vegetables from my garden. Thx in advanced for your comment

Hello Zhao

I'd suggest you take a look at our Perfect aspect page, where the meaning of the perfect aspect in general is explained and there are detailed explanations of both the present perfect and past perfect.

Your first two sentences are grammatically correct, but in the third one it's not correct to say 'enjoy' (in the present simple tense) with the time expression 'since'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I would like to know which of the following expressions exactly say I have become a fan of boxer Mr.Tyson Fury after his impressive win over Mr.Schwarz (happened four days ago). Earlier I didn't like him. I have been a fan of Tyson Fury. I am a fan of Tyson Fury. Thank you.

Hello Aniyanmon

Neither one clearly expresses what you explain. I would probably just say what you said in your explanation, but you could also say something like 'I am now a fan of Tyson Fury' or 'I have become a fan after that fight'.

Hope that helps.

Best wishes

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.I have been able to speak English. 2.I have been able to study well. Actually what do the above sentences mean? Can I speak English now? Could I study well?. Thank you.

Hello Aniyanmon

It's difficult to say without at least knowing the context, but, for example, 1 could be something an English student said. For example, imagine one of my Spanish students went to study in the UK and I visited him there after he'd been there a few weeks. He might say something like 1 to me to refer to his time in the UK.

Knowing exactly what 2 means is also context dependent. Maybe someone who lives in a noisy house full of people would say this. Or it could be someone who's been ill and didn't expect to be able to concentrate. In either case, they are speaking about a period of time that began sometime in the past and which has just finished or is still continuing at the moment of speaking.

You can see more examples of this on our Present perfect page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir, I would like to know if these sentences are correct or not. Initially, he had suffered from arthritis for 3 days. A month later, his symptoms had not improved. Today, he is still in pain. Thank you sir.

Hello Hank,

Although it's hard to be sure without knowing the full context, I would suggest the following:

Initially, he suffered from arthritis for 3 days. A month later, his symptoms had not improved. Today, he is still in pain.

The first sentence is simply a statement about a finished past time so past simple is required. We use past perfect when we are looking back from a later (past) date, as in the second sentence where we are looking back from 'a month later' to the period before.

You can read more about the past perfect on these pages:

Talking about the past

Past perfect

Perfect aspect

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I am confused regarding the grammar part of following sentence, please correct it: Barack Obama had taught for twelve years in Chicago University; even he had not known that one day he would have been president of the USA. OR Barack Obama had taught for twelve years in Chicago University; even he did not have known that he would have been president of the USA.
Hello Sharma Harry, Neither sentence looks fully correct to me, though it is hard to say without knowing the context in which it appears and without knowing the speaker's intention. You could say the following: > Barack Obama had taught for twelve years at Chicago University; even he did not know that he would one day be president of the USA. However, as I said, I would need to know the full context to be sure. It may not be appropriate to use the past perfect (had taught), for example. This depends on the context. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir, She injured her shoulder playing tennis. She injured her shoulder while playing tennis. I hurt my back lifting that box. I hurt my back while lifting that box. I saw the above four sentences in a grammar book. I am a non native speaker, according to me the above sentences only with "while" make sense. Kindly enlighten me.
Hello Aniyanmon They are all correct. The sentences without 'while' have what's called a participle clause. You can read more about them on https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/participle-clauses. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Can we use a present tense with a past perfect? e.g: "He records what had happened in ancient times." Please give me an answer. Thank you.
Hello kingsonselvaraj, That sentence is not correct as the past perfect needs a second past time for reference. This can be implied by the context rather than stated explicitly, but it is necessary. Without this, we simply use the past tense (simple or continuous): > He records what happened in ancient times ~ It is possible to have a present tense with the past perfect, but only if there is a second past tense for reference. For example: > I know what you had done - incorrect without any other past time reference in the context > I know what you had done before she arrived - correct ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.The building has been completed now for 5 years. 2. His mother has been cancer free now for 5 years. What I could understand from the above sentences is "that building was built 5 years ago" and "five years ago she had cancer. Am I right?. Enlighten me on this.
Hello Aniyanmon Yes, that is correct (with respect to both sentences). All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Hi! Are both of these sentences accepted in British English (both formal and informal)? If not, which of them is accepted? I had eaten before you came. I ate before you came.
Hi stew, Both sentences are grammatically possible. The first sentence ('had eaten') would be used as part of a narrative. Imagine the speaker is talking to a friend about an earlier time when the friend came to visit. For example: A: Remember last weekend when I came to see you? I offered you a slice of pizza and you didn't want it. Why not? B: Because I had eaten before you came. ~ The second sentence ('ate') would be used in other situations. Imagine this time that A arrives with a pizza: A: Hi there. I've got a pizza. Do you want a piece? B: No thanks, I ate before you came. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir M peter I have some confusion about using time conjunction -before and after. which one is correct and why? 1.He will come after she goes. 2.He will come after she has gone. would you please mention all uses of before and after as a conjunction. my last question is.. Before can be used in future perfect? please give some examples.
Hello AminulIslam. Please do not post comments more than once! We generally answer one comment per user per day. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir, I would like to know the exact difference in the meaning of the following sentences. Actually what difference that "get" and "is" make in the following sentences. 1.He gets infected with viral infection. 2.He is infected with viral infection. Thanking you in advance.
Hello Aniyanmon 'gets' speaks about a process, i.e. the process by which he becomes infected, whereas 'is' speaks about a state, i.e. his condition at a particular moment in time. Please note it's unusual to use the present simple with 'get' to speak about a specific person at a specific time. You could say 'People often get infected due to inadequate hygiene' (which speaks about a general process) but to speak about a specific person, you'd need to say either 'He got infected due to inadequate hygiene' or 'He is likely to get infected' or 'He may get infected'. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
I have one query regarding the past perfect tense usage. Here is a passage in which I want to talk about notes written in a library book by previous borrower. Check the passage and let me know whether I have used past perfect correctly or not. (here at the end of this sentence should I put a question mark ?? ) "It usually happens that while reading a book you come across a new friend. This friend is the one whom you may never meet in person. He is the person who had borrowed this book a long time ago and written notes in the book you are presently reading."
Hello RAVI DESAI, The past perfect in your text is fine. It describes an action before another action in the past which is relevant to the later action. However, the other action should be past simple (wrote) rather than a past participle (written). It would be fine to have both verbs in the past simple. There are some other issues with articles, in the text. However, LearnEnglish is a site for language explanation, not proof reading or text correction. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Sir, sorry to say you are not approving my comments. but why? I am eager to learn English so make comment on this site. For kind information I am not a native speaker.
Hello AminulIslam. We check all comments before they are published, and we check them two or three times most days. This means you might have to wait several hours before your comments appear on our site. I have not published the comments that you posted multiple times. Please be patient and please only post your comments one time. We also generally answer only one question per user per day, so please also keep that in mind. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Which one is correct? Her sister told me that..... a.she had done the assignment the previous day. b.she had done the assignment . c. she did the task yesterday.
Hello AminulIslam. If I had to choose one answer, I'd probably choose a, but all three of those answers could be correct. It depends on what you want to say and on the context. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences. 1.She is to see the movie. 2.She is to have seen the movie. 3.She was to see the movie. 4.She was to have seen the movie. Thanking you in advance.
Hello Aniyanmon, I'm afraid it's not possible for us to answer questions like this. We're always happy to provide explanations of the material on our pages, or to explain particular points or rules of English, to answer this question we would need to write detailed explanations of multiple sentences, showing how different contexts change the meanings of each example. In other words, we would need to produce something like a lesson for you in the comments section. Please understand that we have many thousands of users on the site and deal with many comments every day. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Dear Sir, Kindly tell me what changes that "is" and "has been" makes in the following sentences. Please explain it. 1 According to McMillan,  the most common cause of death is car accidents. 2. According to McMillan, the most common cause of death has been car accidents. Thanks a lot in advance.
Hello Aniyanmon 'is' is in the present simple tense; 'has been' is in the present perfect (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-tense). 1 refers to a situation in general, as determined by the context. 2 refers to a more specific time period, from some moment in the past until the present. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir, I would like to know the exact meaning of the following sentences. What changes that "rely on", " is relying" and "has relied" make in the following sentences. 1.Commuters travelling to and from work rely on the safety and efficiency. 2.Commuters travelling to and from work is relying on the safety and efficiency. 3.Commuters travelling to and from work has relied on the safety and efficiency. Thanking you
Hello Aniyanmon, The second and third sentences are not correct as 'commuters' is a plural noun. You would need to say 'are relying' and 'have relied' for the verbs to agree with the subject. ~ The first sentence tells us about the commuters in general. It describes something which is generally true rather than describing something happening at one time or on a particular occasion. You can read more about this form (present simple) on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-simple ~ The second sentence (changed to 'are travelling') would describe something in progress at the time of speaking. It would refer to the commuters travelling now (as you speak), not to anything in general. You can read more about this form (present continuous) on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-continuous ~ The third sentence would need some other changes to be correct. You would need to add a time reference such as 'for many years' to provide a context for the action. The verb form here describes something which began in the past and is still true today. You can read more about this form (present perfect) on this page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar/present-perfect ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
Dear sir, Kindly tell me which of the following sentences are correct. 1.Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident in beating. 2.Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents on whom he has confidence to beat. 3. Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident to beat. 4. Deonty Wilder selects only those opponents that he is confident about beating. If there is no correct sentences, please prepare one for me. Thanking you
Hello Aniyanmon 1 and 4 are correct; I would be more likely to say 4 than 1. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team
Dear Sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences: " He has been a police man " Is he still a police man ? or Was he a police man. Kindly clarify it's meaning There is a debate among us regarding the meaning of this sentence. Thanking you in advance 27 minutes ago

Hello Aniyanmon

In most situations, the use of the present perfect here indicates that he is still a policeman at the moment of speaking. There are situations where this may not be true, but that is dependent on the context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences and also kindly let me know whether they are correct. 1. Is there a wooden cot in your house? 2. Do you have a wooden cot in your house? Thanks in advance

Hello Aniyanmon,

Both sentences are correct. Is there is a question about presence or lack of it; Do you have identifies ownership. For example, if I say there is a car outside my house then it is probably not my car, but if I say I have a car outside my house then the listener will understand that I am the owner.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir, I would like to know the meaning of the following sentences 1. If you invited him, he might come 2. If you had invited him he might have come Do the above sentence having the same meaning. Kindly clarify. Thanks in advance

Hello Aniyanmon

Sentence 1 uses a second conditional structure and talks about an imaginary situation in the present or future. Sentence 2 uses a third conditional structure and talks about an imaginary past situation, i.e. a situation in the past that did not happen, but could have happened if the condition had been met.

You can see more about conditionals on our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I would like you ask you the meaning of the following sentence 1. John might have failed the test but he was lucky and passed it. Is this sentence right, if yes, kindly tell me it's meaning Thank you in advance

Hello Aniyanmon,

The sentence is correct.

We can use might have to describe something that was a possibility in the past. Your sentence means that there was a chance of not passing but in the end John was successful.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

To respected Peter.M, A couple of months back you cleared a doubt of another person. He asked you which of the following sentence is right 1.I lived in Kurdistan for two years 2. I have lived in Kurdistan for two years You answered as follows 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. Sir, I have been working in a government department since 2003. My doubt is can I say " I have joined the department in 2003". As you said "The present perfect links a past action or state to the present". Yes still now I am working in the same department. So I believe that the usage of " have" is right in the above sentence. Humbly request you to clarify my doubt. Thanking you in advance
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