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

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 07/06/2019 - 07:43

En réponse à par Sharma Harry

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le sam 25/05/2019 - 11:07

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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

Soumis par kingsonselvaraj le sam 18/05/2019 - 11:33

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le dim 12/05/2019 - 07:26

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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

Soumis par stew le ven 03/05/2019 - 07:42

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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

Soumis par AminulIslam. le sam 27/04/2019 - 17:01

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le jeu 25/04/2019 - 17:08

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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

Soumis par RAVI DESAI le mar 23/04/2019 - 14:35

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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

Soumis par AminulIslam. le lun 15/04/2019 - 15:06

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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

Soumis par AminulIslam. le lun 15/04/2019 - 14:58

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le sam 13/04/2019 - 04:55

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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.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 14/04/2019 - 07:40

En réponse à par Aniyanmon

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le dim 31/03/2019 - 15:45

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le ven 29/03/2019 - 02:33

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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

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 29/03/2019 - 07:11

En réponse à par Aniyanmon

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le mer 27/03/2019 - 17:54

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le ven 08/03/2019 - 09:56

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le jeu 07/03/2019 - 16:57

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le mar 05/03/2019 - 14:01

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le mar 05/03/2019 - 04:18

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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

Soumis par Peter M. le mar 05/03/2019 - 06:35

En réponse à par Aniyanmon

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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

Soumis par Aniyanmon le lun 04/03/2019 - 06:57

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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

Hello Aniyanmon

I hope you don't mind me answering for Peter. In this case, it would not be correct to say 'I have joined the department in 2003' because the action of joining the department happened in the past and only in the past. 'join' refers only to the first moment that you become part of a group and isn't used afterwards to refer to being a part of it.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Aniyanmon le sam 02/03/2019 - 07:51

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Dear sir, Kindly advise me to write the following matter grammatically : "Certified that Shi.Albert had attended his duty from 01/01/2019 to 28/02/2019 except holidays. This certificate is issued to be produced before the District Medical Officer of Health, Idukki" Sir, is the usage of " had" in the above sentence is right

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 03/03/2019 - 07:28

En réponse à par Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon,

I think the past simple is required here rather than the past perfect:

Shi.Albert attended his duty

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Aniyanmon le ven 01/03/2019 - 14:43

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Dear sir, Today ie on 01/03/2019 I read a news in a popular news paper. The news goes as follows : "The total number of IPS officers in service was 111. Of this about 16 officers have retired since January 2018 - that was when the list was published ". Sir, is the usage of " have " right in this context Thanks in advance

Hello Aniyanmon

Yes, the present perfect is appropriate and correct in this context, i.e. a time period that began in the past (January 2018) and which includes the present moment.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Aniyanmon le ven 01/03/2019 - 12:41

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Dear sir, Kindly help me to write the following letter grammatically. "As per order no.5/RCH dated 10/01/2019 Sri.Arun was transferred to Head office. As per order no.6/RCH dated 15/02/2019 I have been transferred to District hospital. I had joined duty on 19/02/2019. I have verified all the files there." I would like to know whether use of " had " is correct in the above usage

Soumis par Peter M. le sam 02/03/2019 - 07:51

En réponse à par Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon,

I'm afraid we don't check texts or correct them. We have far too many users and are too small a team to offer such a service!

 

I'm not sure what you mean by I had joined duty on... but I imagine you are talking about beginning work there. In that case we would probably say

I took up my post there on...

However, it is hard to be sure without knowing the full situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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