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:

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Hello Vivi789,

I wouldn't be quite so categorical about whether the past perfect is required, possible or impossible. It is really a question of context and the interrelation of the different events, but there is usually a choice available, even if one for or another is more likely.

Perfect forms show a connection between the event being described and another later event. A perfect form is used when we are looking back on that event: from the present in the case of present perfect forms and from the past in the case of past perfect forms. The connection, however, is subjective. If the speaker thinks that the earlier event influenced the later event then a perfect form is used. This can be because it causes the second event, for example, or changes our understanding of it. The past simple is used when there is no relationship other than sequence between the two events. For example:

I cleaned my teeth and I drank my coffee. [two events in a sequence]

I had cleaned my teeth before I drank my coffee. [we understand there is some connection here - probably the coffee tasted bad because of the taste of the toothpaste, or else I am saying that I don't need to clean my teeth now because I already did it before the coffee]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Daniel H le sam 21/01/2017 - 05:21

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Hello, good night. Is the following sentence correct? What had you done before you stated university? I want to know: what was that person doing (their occupation) before started university? Than you so much.

Hello Daniel H,

The sentence is grammatically correct (though there is a spelling error), but so would be the following sentence:  

What did you do before you started university?

Whether the past perfect (had you done) or the past simple (did you do) is correct depends on the particular context. Most of the time we would use the past simple to show activities in the past. When there is a direct connection between two events (one being the result of another, for example) then we might use past perfect.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par taj25 le jeu 29/12/2016 - 14:12

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I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times. my question is "i was pleased to meet george" why use present tense instead of past tense. (meet instead of met)

Soumis par Phantomaxe le mar 20/12/2016 - 14:27

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Hi, I have something to clarify. This is from Straits Times. "Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay said Mr Lai had not been specifically instructed to clean the glass panels as he was "old and walks with a limp". But he has insisted many times on doing it despite being advised otherwise. The temple's operations manager, Mr Liu Khee Fang, had been especially concerned because Mr Lai would anchor one leg against the glass surface and stand with only one leg on the ladder." Why was past perfect used in each time? Please help. I don't understand why. It doesn't follow this "for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past"

Hello Phantomaxe,

In general, the past perfect is used to refer to a past action that occurred before some other reference point in the past, and so can be used in many different ways - not just 'for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time'.

The past perfect is very common in reports like this one - the article is reporting what the coroner said yesterday (this is the reference point in the past), and what the coroner said yesterday is a report about an earlier past event (the incident with Mr Lai). The other uses of the past perfect appear to follow from the past reference point of what the coroner said yesterday.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Prap le jeu 15/12/2016 - 05:09

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Good Morning! I wanted to know if there is any difference in meaning between these two sentences - "When he heard the news, he fainted." and "When he had heard the news, he fainted."

Hello prapsahu,

The first one can be used in a wider variety of contexts than the second one, as the use of the past perfect refers to some other past point in time. That past point in time would have to be clear from the context. Otherwise, these two sentences mean the same thing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Yulia Len le ven 25/11/2016 - 16:05

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Hi, I have a question regarding these examples: • I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school. • I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode. If Past Perfect is always used to indicate an action that happened before another past action, why actions that happened before (here "since I left school" and "since it started") are in Past Simple even though they happened before the actions in Past Perfect ("had worked" and "had been watching")? I understand, that in these examples we have other actions in Past Simple ("I was sorry" and "I missed") that require Past Perfect, but why we use Past Simple after "since" in not clear. Are there any special rules for the use of "since", why isn't it "since I had left school" and "since it had started"? I couldn't find any information about that. Sorry to bother you, if this is just some misunderstanding of mine, Yulia

Hi Yulia,

This is a tricky area and I can understand why it seems confusing. There is some information on this on our page on the past perfect which might be helpful.

In most cases, both the past simple and the past perfect are possible. The reason why the past simple is possible is that the past perfect is used not to indicate that one action was before another, but to show a connection between two events in the past, just as the present perfect shows a connection between the past and the present. For example:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school.

Here the past perfect is used because 'had worked' is related to 'was sorry' - the reason for the speaker's sorry is that they had worked there. The information about leaving school is not directly related to the speaker's feelings.

Similiarly, in your other example the connected events are 'had been watching' and 'missed', because it is the act of missing an episode that ends the former sequence of watching every week.

In both these examples it would not be incorrect to use the past perfect, as you say. However, the past simple is more likely because the events in the past simple do not really have any connection with the other actions; they are simply time references.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par DilanS le sam 05/11/2016 - 12:39

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It can be got done or it can get done.it occurs me that both are same.

Hello DilanS,

No, the first form is not correct in standard English, and might even be confusing in non-standard English. The second one is fine.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Widescreen le sam 05/11/2016 - 12:07

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Hi team, Could you please explain why I can't use "offered" in stead of "had offered" in the sentence below? Is that because the fact that David got t he job was important at the moment of speaking, hence perfect tense must be used? Everything in Julie's life had been going well until her world fell apart just a month before. A large company had offered David an important position that would require him to move to France. Also am I correct in understanding that when we tell a story, we have to change every tenses from present to past? ( I.e. simple present to simple past, present perfect to past perfect, and so on) Thanks

Hello Widescreen,

Here the past perfect is used to refer to something that happened at a previous past time. In other words, David was offered a job abroad and then her world started to fall apart. Using the past perfect form 'had offered' makes it clear that the offer came before her world starting to fall apart. It's possible to use the past simple form 'offered' instead, but it's unlikely because it doesn't show that the offer came first, which seems to be important here. You might want to take a look at our Quick grammar Past perfect page, as it explains this in some detail.

There are many ways to tell a story. Generally, past forms are used, for the most part in the ways you describe, but it's also possible to use present tenses as well. One great way to learn how to tell stories is to read them, which it sounds like you are already doing! I'd encourage you to keep it up.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par DilanS le sam 05/11/2016 - 06:37

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is this sentence grammatically correct ( i had of thinking) if it so ,what does it mean.is it similar to i had been thinking .

Hello DilanS,

No, I'm afraid that's not a correct sentence in English.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello DilanS,

The form you have in the second sentence is as follows:

get something done - I got my house painted

This is similar to the form:

have something done - I had my house painted

Both of these forms are used when we have a service performed for us, usually for money. They are quite common in English. However these forms are only used with active voice; there is no passive form for these and that is why your first example is not correct English, because it is a passive form.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par lexeus le dim 09/10/2016 - 15:49

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Hi Team Which tense (Past Simple or Past Perfect) should I use in sentences 1 to 5? I have a feeling 1 and 2 are Past Simple, but I'm not sure about the others. Could you help me out please? 1. Terry (played/had played) golf with his friends last night. 2. Mike (cleaned/had cleaned) his room on Tuesday. 3. The children (stayed/had stayed) under a tree for 2 hours during the big storm that night. 4. The doctor (examined/had examined) 7 patients that morning so he was very tired. 5. The small puppy (fetched/had fetched) the newspaper for its owner that morning. Thanks for your help, Lexeus.

Soumis par Kirk le dim 09/10/2016 - 18:39

En réponse à par lexeus

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Hello Lexeus,

Both the past simple and the past perfect could work in those sentences depending on the context in which these sentences are found. I'd suggest you take a look at our talking about the past page - there you can find an explanation of how these two tenses work. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par fahri_nusantara le dim 18/09/2016 - 17:53

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what the different between "have" and "had"

Hello fahri_nusantara,

'Have' is the present or infinitive form of the verb; 'had' is the past form or the past participle.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Andrew international le sam 13/08/2016 - 03:24

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Dear Sir Please tell me whether the following are correct or not: When I came home, my wife had been cooking. When I came home, my wife was cooking. I had been watching TV when the door bell rang. I was watching TV when the door bell rang. When I arrived at the station the train had left. Thank you. Regards

Soumis par mark roi le lun 01/08/2016 - 08:12

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Hi sir, In sentence construction, should I always write adjective before noun? A quick increase. And adverb after verb? it increase quickly?. Thank you

Soumis par Kirk le mer 03/08/2016 - 22:11

En réponse à par mark roi

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Hello mark,

Adjectives nearly always come before nouns. The placement of adverbs varies quite a lot. I'd suggest reading through our Adverbials section to begin with, and the dictionary will also often be helpful.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mark roi le ven 29/07/2016 - 06:10

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Hello, Please advice me in my comment I really need it since I'll take IELTS exam in no time. Thank you so much guys!

Soumis par mark roi le jeu 28/07/2016 - 07:08

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Hi, Should I always use past perfect when I say an action completed in the past when overtaken by another past action? E.g. I had worked as a nurse before I resigned. Past progressive when an action going on in the past when overtaken by another past action. E.g. I was working as a staff nurse then I resigned. Past perfect progressive when an action going on In the past for specific time period when overtaken by another acrion in the past. E.g. I had been working as a staff nurse for about 3 years before I resigned. Can I put a time period like for a year,hours in these 3 tenses? Thank you!

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 29/07/2016 - 06:11

En réponse à par mark roi

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Hi mark roi,

These are quite complex questions and it is not really possible for us to go into great depth in the comments section of the site. For questions like these the appropriate person to help you is your teacher - we cannot offer online lessons! However, I will give you the brief answers possible in this space.

The past perfect is common when one action interrupts or 'overtakes' another. However, it is not always used. The speaker has some latitude in choosing the form which seems to him or her to best express the idea. For example, all of the following are grammatially correct:

I had worked as a nurse before I resigned.

I worked as a nurse before I resigned.

I had been working as a nurse before I resigned.

I was working worked as a nurse before I resigned.

In choosing which to use the speaker is effectively emphasising which aspects of the situation are particularly relevant or important. A time period can be added to any of these other than the last one (past progressive).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir, How about this, 2 weeks ago, I was walking on the sidewalk then it rained suddenly. So, I stopped immediately in a waiting shed to avoid getting wet. *I used past continuous to express the idea that I was walking before it rained and I stopped walking while raining. Is it correct? But I read that in past continuous, the shorter action (it rained) is in simple past and it may or may not interrupt the action in progress (I was walking). E.g. while raining, i was walking on the sidewalk. It is also correct? Thank you

Soumis par Peter M. le sam 30/07/2016 - 07:42

En réponse à par mark roi

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Hi mark roi,

First of all, your final sentence is not correct. When we use a participle clause like 'While raining' it has the same subject as the main clause, and so this would mean that you are raining (as if you were a cloud!).

The action in the continuous form is the action which is interrupted. I would avoid thinking of the actions as longer or shorter, however.

The natural way to say your sentence would be to use the phrase 'start raining' rather than 'rain':

2 weeks ago, I was walking on the sidewalk then it suddely started to rain.

This makes it clear that it was the onset of rain that caused you to take shelter.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par pyramid le mer 27/07/2016 - 09:38

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dear sir/madam, we use BE verb in present perfect i have been to Goa(place) can we use with the past perfect and future perfect? eg i had been to Goa i will have been to Goa. are above sentences correct?

Soumis par Mr Ahmed Adel le mar 12/07/2016 - 18:08

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He may come late, .............. ? ( question tag) Thanks in advance

Hello Mr Ahmed,

In theory, the question tag should be 'may he not', but I doubt you'd ever hear that. Perhaps you could use 'right', which is an all-purpose question tag, i.e. you can use it with most any form.

In the future, please ask your questions on an appropriate page. In this case, for example, our questions tags page would be the place to ask this, not here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mr Ahmed Adel le sam 09/07/2016 - 10:22

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Question tag: 1. He must have left his mobile home, ..........? (didn't he - mustn't he) 2. This is your father,.........? ( isn't it - isn't he)

Hell Mr Ahmed Adel,

Please take a look at our question tags page. We're happy to help with questions, but please let us know what you think, explaining why you would use one form or the other. You won't learn as much from us just giving you the answers.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mr Ahmed Adel le sam 09/07/2016 - 09:52

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I need your help: 1.I have studied English FOR THE last 5 years. 2. I have studied English SINCE THE last 5 years. -Which one is correct? Does the article (THE) have an influece on the choice???

Hello Mr Ahmen Adel,

The article has no influence here. We use 'for' before a period of time and 'since' before a point in time. Therefore we would say 'for the last five years'. If we wanted to use 'since' then we would say 'since five years ago'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mr Ahmed Adel le ven 08/07/2016 - 10:56

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The weather forecast says that it ( will - is going to) be rainy tomorrow. Which one is correct, sir?

Hello Mr Ahmed Adel,

Both are possible. We use 'will' for a guess based on only our intuition, or for something that we think is certain to happen. We use 'going to' when there is some visible present evidence to support the idea. For example, if I can see dark clouds gathering then I will say 'It's going to rain'. But if I am just guessing (because I'm an unlucky person, for example) then I will say 'It will rain'.

As this is a weather forecast and so is probably based on scientific evidence then I would say 'going to' is more likely.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mr Ahmed Adel le jeu 07/07/2016 - 17:20

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Please, sir! I wanna get a full explanation of the forms of the future tenses but please concentrate on the present reality or the evidence as Swan said in his book as i have read a lot in this point but it still so confusing to me.

Hello Mr Ahmed Adel,

Our main purpose here is to help users with our website, which means responding to questions about the exercises or explanations on our pages. We're also happy to help with specific questions that are related to what's on our pages, but I'm afraid we're not able to give 'full' or lengthy explanations. For that kind of thing, I'd suggest you seek a teacher or class. Or, if you have a short, specific question in which you explain what you think, then we'll do our best to help you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par neh7272 le jeu 07/07/2016 - 13:14

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sir, what is the difference between following two - 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.

Soumis par Kirk le ven 08/07/2016 - 07:05

En réponse à par neh7272

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Hello neh7272,

This is already explained above on this page. Our continuous aspect page might also help. If you have a more specific question about it in which, e.g. you explain how you see the difference between the two forms, then please feel free to ask it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par JJKI le lun 04/07/2016 - 06:02

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Hello 'Learn English Team' I was sure that I met him before is it grammatically right?

Hello JJKI,

The sentence should have a past perfect form:

I was sure that I had met him before.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par MC le mer 22/06/2016 - 18:55

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Hi! 'How I wish to get back is easy as I had lost my place' Is it correct?

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 23/06/2016 - 06:08

En réponse à par MC

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Hello MC,

I don't see any obvious errors in that sentence, though it's not completely clear to me what it means without knowing the context.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SpireUpDown le mar 14/06/2016 - 21:01

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Hi everybody! I have a general question: How is it with adjectives and past perfect? Is it: "He loudly had declared" or "He had loudly declared" ("had" beforé or after the adjective(s)?) Are there any general rules, for instance: had , or had Thanks in advance!