Past perfect

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? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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 after before

We can also use before + past perfect 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.


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

Average: 4.3 (75 votes)
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Dear Kirk,
Thank you very much for your response.
Normally when I tend to make sentences like this (I have noticed that he broke it), I normally believe that the second part of the sentence is a past knowledge/memory (he broke it) that we can relate to current situation (I have noticed). Am I correct in my thinking? - This is my basic query.
Hope, this time I have asked my question in a clearer way.
Thank you,

Hello kingson,

Yes, I think that's possible, but in this situation I think it's a bit odd because of the verb 'notice'. If you say you've noticed something, it suggests you've either witnessed something happening or that you've just seen the result of an earlier action.

This is why 'I've noticed he broke it' sounds odd -- 'he broke it' is speaking about an action happening in the past but 'I've noticed' is speaking about witnessing something happening now.

Other combinations of the present perfect and past simple are possible. For example, 'I've eaten the salad you prepared'. I think the problem with the sentence you asked about has to do with the nature of the act of noticing something.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you verty much, Kirk for your responses.
"She has stated that she worked hard during her previous tenure"
I think the above sentence would be correct. Please confirm it - whether it is correct or not.
"She has stated that she had worked hard during her previous tenure (or) when she was employed by her previous company."
Can we use a past perfect (had worked) with a present perfect (has stated)?
And please let me know which suffix (during her previous tenure (or) when she was employed by her previous company) would be relevant if we use a past perfect (had worked).
Hope, I am not too much demanding.
I am using the above examples (sentences) not only to correct my grammatical errors for those examples but also it will be helpful for me when I make similar sentences and try to express my views in English.
Hope, you understand.
And my last question is about the "adverbial function."
"The poem that spoke/speaks about it."
Here the conjunction "that" and the suffix "spoke about it" has an adverbial function? (beause the verb can be changed in it - spoke/speaks - I think, in a way it describes the poem).
Please let me know whether I am right in my thinking.
Thank you,

Hello kingson,

Yes, that first sentence is grammatically correct.

Re: the second sentence, in most situations, a past simple form is more appropriate, but the past perfect could be correct in a specific context. For example, imagine the situation is a trial and a witness has said that she worked hard; one lawyer insinuates that this is not true, and the other lawyer could respond with this sentence. The 'has stated' refers to the immediate situation in the court, and the 'had worked' refers to the witness's recent statement that she worked hard. Does that make sense?

Regarding 'The poem that speaks about it', first of all please note that this is not a complete sentence, though of course it could be a part of a sentence such as 'The poem that speaks about it won an award'. I wouldn't say that the 'that' clause has an adverbial (and I don't think I've seen any grammar that describes it that way either) because it identifies the poem -- in this way it's adjectival. Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
I am so happy that you answered my questions. This gives me the confident and firmness in speaking and making sentences in English. Thank you so much and have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New year.
I will remember your help that you have rendered me so far.

Hello kingson,

Thanks for letting me know the explanation was useful -- I'm very glad to hear this.

Happy holidays to you, too!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
I understand that "had worked" has a "past time referral" from the recent statement of the witness (she worked hard). Am I right in my understanding?
Or, can the phrase/verb "had worked hard" be used by the other lawyer even though the opponent lawyer does not insinuates that this is not true?
Hope, I am clear in asking this question. I am just trying to understand the context here. That's all.
Thank you,

Hello kingson,

If I understand you correctly, yes, the other lawyer could use it as well. If you want to be completely sure, please feel free to write out the words the witness and lawyers say and I can confirm it for you, but my impression is you're looking at it correctly.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you very much for allowing me to further explore into this specific context.
Witness: I worked for the employer "X" during my previous tenure.
Lawyer 1: This is untrue.
Lawyer 2: No., she (witness) has just stated (immediate context of the court) that she had worked (taking the statement of the witness as the past referral point - I "WORKED" for the employer "X") for the employer "X".
Is my above understanding about the present and past perfect correct?
In the same way...
There is an employee called "Y" working for a company and now he is on holidays and in his position another employee is looking after "Y" employee's job. When I rang the company and talked to the another employee, who is looking after Y's job, I said to him that the "Y" had been sending emails on a regular basis to me to notify the better sale deals of the company.
Here, can I say to the another employee in the following way?
I: employee "Y" had been sending (the past time referral is, just the context - Y employee was regularly sending the emails) me emails on a regular basis.
I know I can use a past continuous, but I also understand that past continuous is a temporary act and sending emails is not a continuous action (it was an intermittant) by "Y" employee in the past. So I reckon I cannot use past continuous tense here.
Please enlighten me in this regard.
Thank you,

Hello kingson,

It's not impossible, but it'd be unusual for the Lawyer 2 to combine present perfect and past perfect like this ('she has just stated that she had worked'); instead, people would normally say 'she has just stated that she worked', assuming that the important point is that the witness did in fact work for the employer X.

In the second case, it kind of depends on your purpose in mentioning what Y did for you. If I were asking the substitute to do the same thing for me, I'd actually probably use the present simple: 'Y sends me emails to let me know about deals'. This is because I'm speaking about a regular recurrent action. But like I said, it really depends on my purpose in mentioning this to the substitute.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team