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

Hello AminulIslam.,

Both forms are possible in this context.

The past simple (was paved) here describes a feature of the path: the path was paved, the path was straight, the path was long etc.

The past perfect (had been paved) suggests a change has occurred: the path was not paved at one point and then had become paved.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

sir want to have your guidance a bit.... this is like.. ..........by the tremendous amount of data they HAVE had to process in last three or four days. if i choose to eliminate the word "have" here, does it make any difference here??? what is point of using "have" here,cant they go without it?

Hello shubhamgupta

In this context, 'have had (to process)' is in the present perfect and 'had (to process)' would be in the past simple. There is a difference in meaning between the two. If you use the present perfect, the time period began three or four days ago and includes today, at least up until the present moment. If you use the past simple, the time period began three or four days ago and doesn't include the present moment.

Without knowing the context or the writer's intended meaning, I couldn't say which is correct, though I can say it would more common to use the present perfect with the time adverbial 'in the last three or four days'. If a past simple were to be used here, it'd be more common to say something like 'from Wednesday to Friday' or something more specific, as saying 'in the last three or four days' is understood to include the moment of speaking.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mehrdad87,

 

Past perfect forms describe an action in the past which happened before another action in the past, showing a connection between the two events of some kind.

Past continuous verbs describe an action in the past which was in progress around a point in time (or another action) in the past.

 

If you have a particular example in mind we'll be happy to comment on it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mehrdad87,

Most pages on LearnEnglish have comments sections but some do not. If you want to ask a question then use another page – try to find a page on a similar topic or language point so other users interested in the subject will see it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

sir ,i have to have you to clear something...this is like... i had a car i have had a car what is the difference between them? and second is this... i told you he would take the girl. i told you he will take the girl here,what do these two tell about the sense???

Hello shubhamgupta,

I had a car tells us about a specific time, and there must be a reference to that time either in the sentence (I had a car in 2005 / I had a car when I was a student) or implied in the context.

I have had a car does not refer to a specific time (and it would be ungrammatical to provide one), but rather tells us about your life as a whole.

 

We would say I told you he woud take the girl when either the girl has already been taken or we have some information to tell us that it is certain.

We would say I told you he will take the girl when we still do not know if it will happen or not, and are reminding the other person of our prediction.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

This is the best English learning site ever.I'm glad to have found this.Great job guys.
Hello leanenglish team, I get confused a lot in the use of past perfect continuous and the present perfect continuous. Any advice?

Hello D8023,

We have a number of pages dealing with these verb forms in our main grammar section and in our Intermediate grammar section.

It's not really possible for us to provide long explanations in the comments sections, but if you have a particular example which you find confusing then we'll be happy to try to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

well, for example, this two. do they mean the same thing? I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school. I have worked here since I left school.

Hi D8023

In this case, only 'I had worked' (había trabajado) is the correct form (not 'have worked' -- he trabajado). The sequence of events is this: 1. you started working in the factory, 2. the factory closed, 3. you were sorry. By saying 'had worked', it's clear that your working there was before the factory closed and you were sorry.

If you said 'have worked', it suggests that you are still working there now. This doesn't make sense since earlier you said the factory already closed. If you said Estuve triste cuando la fábrica cerró. He trabajado ahí desde que dejé el colegio it would sound strange, right? It would sound the same way in English.

The present perfect always refers to or touches the present time in some way -- its reference point is the present--whereas the past perfect has a past time as a reference point.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello D8023,

The past perfect is correct there, though the sentence has a small error You could say:

They had been waiting for a long time when the bus arrived.

or

They hadn't been waiting long when the bus arrived – just a few minutes.

 

The past perfect is used because the action (waiting) began in the past and continued up to another time in the past (the bus's arrival).

 

You could say the same thing about an action which began in the past (waiting) and continued up to the present (the moment of speaking). In this case you would use the present perfect:

They have been waiting for a long time (now).

or

They haven't been waiting long (yet) – just a few minutes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

again i need assistance from u sir,, and this is like... i was chatting with one of my friends she said--- my phone was not with me ,it was with my roommate. me---------- why you had even given your phone to her???? was my reply grammatically correct? was the past perfect used here correct? and if i was wrong then what should i would have said? thank u sir

Hello shubhamgupta,

It's a little hard to tell without knowing the exact situation, but I think the past perfect or past simple could be used here. The woman is talking about a time in the past (not having the phone) and you are asking about something earlier which is related to this (giving the phone to her roommate)

My phone was not with me, it was with my roommate.

Why had you even given your phone to her? / Why did you even give your phone to her?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello shubhamgupta,

As far as I know, 'crore' isn't used much outside of South Asia. As someone who's spent some time there, I recognised that it was a term used in Indian English, but I'm not sure most native speakers would. I think 'inject' or some other word might also be more common than 'infuse', but I'm not really sure.

Hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Learn English team, If I want to report a question: He asked: "When did you last cook meat?" can I say: *He asked when she last cooked meat* or should I change tenses: *He asked when she had last cooked meat* and if I should, do I need to change the word *last* for *the previous time* or smth like that?

Hello Goncharush,

Both forms are possible and I can't think of any context in which only one would be possible.

There is no need to change 'last'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In your grammar section you wrote: “I work in Italy” Reported speech: He told me that he works in Italy. It isn’t always necessary to change the tense. If something is still true now – he still works in Italy – we can use the present simple in the reported sentence. My question is whether it is possible to change the tense (he worked in Italy) and will the sentence still have the same meaning.

Hello Goncharush,

You are right in thinking that both 'works' and 'worked' are grammatically correct in this case. When the verb is in the present simple, it indicates that he still works there at the time of speaking. When the verb is in the past simple, the meaning is ambiguous: it could indicate the same as the present simple, or it could be speaking only about the past. Context should usually make the meaning clear, though it's also possible for the sentence to be unintentionally ambiguous.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi I have learnt that when we are talking about how long something is happening we use the past perfect continues, is this true? if it's true why the structure of this phrase?: It had not rained for three months, so the land was very dry. it shouldn't be: it hadn't been raining for three months,so the land was very dry. please correct me if I have redacted wrong

Subido por Peter M. el Sáb, 24/11/2018 - 08:54

En respuesta a por andreus1999

Enlace permanente

Hello andreus1999,

Simple forms can include duration:

I lived in Paris for many years.

 

We use progressive aspect when an action is interrupted by another event:

I was living in Paris when my brother got married.

 

There are other uses of progressive aspect. You can read about them on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi learn English team I was searching on the internet and I found this sentence: yesterday we had walked to school but later rode the bus home. But then the sentence was corrected and had walked changed with walked Why here the past perfect changed to past

Hi Aya salah,

It's really difficult for us to explain this without the context, as there are so many possibilities and to explain them takes quite a bit of effort on our part. But, to try to help you, note that the past perfect doesn't make sense if there isn't some other past reference point. I suppose that's why this sentence was corrected this way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello I want to comment and ask questions to get help from you on other topics too..for example on "tag questions" or any other topics but as i see no one has commented on the mentioned topic..can we ask our questions here for other topics too? Thank you a lot...

Hello bakh.sh85,

You are welcome to ask us questions about question tags or other topics. We only ask that you ask them on the most relevant page you can find. For example, to ask about question tags, the most logical page would be our question tags page, but since there is no space for comments there, the next most relevant is probably questions and negatives.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Mr. Peter It helped a lot and still it may be confusing to me the use of some words like 'before' , 'until' and 'by the time" and "when". For example, if I say "When she called, I went out." it means both actions happened at the same time OR "When she called, I had gone out." it means the second part happened before the first part which is 'When she called, ... '. AND please tell me if the following sentences can be both correct or not: Until 1800, most immigration had been from Britain. Until 1800, most immigration was from Britain.

Hello bakh.sh85,

The relationships between different verb forms are quite nuanced. For example:

When she called, I went out. [I left at the moment she called, possibly as a result of the call]

When she called, I had gone out. [I was not at home when she called]

When she called, I was going out. [I was in the process of leaving when she called]

 

Both the sentences about immigration are possible. Without knowing the context in which they are used, I cannot say which is better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, may I clarify one thing? When we are looking forwards from past, are we allowed to use past perfect for sequencing actions? For example can we say: "He said that I would receive a confirmation e-mail that the reimbursement had been made". Thank you

Hi elaliyev,

The sentence is correct – well done.

However, please note that the past perfect is not used because the actions are in sequence. To describe a sequence of actions we use the past simple:

I read the documents again before I made the phone call.

We use the past perfect because there is some relationship between the earlier action and the later one. It may be that the earlier action causes or allows the later one, or influences it in some way. In your example, the email is sent as a result of the reinbursement, and so the past perfect is appropriate as it signals this relationship.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir, pls tell me the difference between the given sentences--- 1.India had invited trump to attend republic day celebrations in 2019 2. India invited trump to attend republic day celebrations in 2019. as we know that past perfect is used when we have two separate events one after the other but i dont think that this condition is followed here sir. and if it so then when such sentences could be formed?

Hello shubhamgupta,

You're right in thinking that there are separate events that occur in a sequence, but this doesn't mean that they both have to be mentioned in the same sentence. I expect that somewhere in the sentences before sentence 1, another event, subsequent to the invitation, is mentioned.

You can see some additional example sentences on this page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello In an English grammar book, I saw some time signals for past perfect as following: before + past simple + past perfect after + past perfect + past simple until + past simple + past perfect by the time + past simple + past perfect So can these words be the clues for "past perfect" and "past simple" tenses? P.s. I am not sure about the accuracy of the tenses of all the words I mentioned... plz help

Hello bak.sh85,

There are tendencies which work like this but please remember that they are not fixed rules. It is perfectly fine to use before + past simple + past perfect, for example, but it is also fine to use before + past simple + past simple. Pattterns like this can be misleading if you follow them as if they were rules. The context is key.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

regarding my previous question about time reference words, can this word "by" follows these rules? by the time + past perfect + past simple/ by the time + past simple + past perfect or both past simple... E.g. By the time Josh had reached the age of 18, he had already lived in several different countries. E.g. By the time he phoned her, she had found someone new. As you said the context is the key and there is no fixed rule, so how non-native English speakers will recognize them? especially students... Thanks a lot

Hi bakh.sh85,

Like Peter, I'm a little hesitant to speak about 'rules', but I can say that your sentences are both correct and natural-sounding. I'd encourage you to focus on the meaning that the verb forms communicate to help remember them.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hi, this sentence has been taken from an explanation "to put a smoke" means to make it difficult for someone to achieve something they had planned to do . "to put a smoke" means to make it difficult for someone to achieve something they planned to do . what is the difference between these two ? and if i would have to write " had" as in the first case what does it signify? thank you for your time

Hello shubhamgupta,

The first sentence, with the past perfect verb, puts more emphasis on the fact that the planned action was to happen earlier than the other one. You could use either sentence with no difference in meaning in most any context I can think of.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, "A baby boy, wrapped in a green blanket, was abandoned near a 7-Eleven outlet in xxx on Sunday (Oct 7)" 1) Is the "was abandoned" in the sentence a past perfect? 2) Is it used because the baby boy was abandoned and now rescued? 3) Will the meaning change much if they use simple past (abandoned, instead of was abandoned)? My understanding if they use a simple past, it mean the baby is still abandoned there... Well, thanks!

Hi jityo,

1) 'was abandoned' is a passive construction in the past simple
2) We often use the passive voice when the subject of the verb is unknown. In this situation, we don't know who abandoned the child and the passive voice communicates this.
3) It's grammatically correct to say 'A baby boy abandoned', but it doesn't make much sense, since in general babies aren't even able to walk and therefore cannot abandon anyone or anything.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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