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: 4.2 (126 votes)

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Yes, I think that's a reasonable summary. The context is always important, of course, as a second time may be implied rather than explicitly stated.

We don't correct posts on LearnEnglish. I know correction is very useful, but we have many thousands of users and reply to many comments every day. It's just not possible for us to correct user posts, unfortunately.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MPhayTp on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 12:22

Dear Team, I'm so confused with Past Perfect and Past Simple. Which Sentence would be correct? "Blinding Lights" makes me feel the time that I'd not even lived in (past perfect) Or "Blinding Lights" makes me feel the time that I didn't even live in (Past simple)

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Your example isn't a well structured sentence, I'm afraid. I'll try and reformulate it below and then comment on the verb form.


"Blinding Lights" makes me feel like I'm in a time that I didn't even live in.

We use the past simple here because we have only one past time reference.

We use the past perfect when we have two past time references: then and before then. If the sentence were about how you felt in the past then the past pefect could be used:

"Blinding Lights" made me feel like I was in a time that I hadn't even live in.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank You, Sir, But I was wondering If I could use Present Perfect instead. I've read Present Perfect shows Experiences. Then, Sir, "Blinding lights" makes me feel like I am in a time that I haven't even lived in. Does it correct? Thanks again, Sir, Stay Safe

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Yes, that is grammatically possible. The sentence is describing a feeling or an impression rather than something concrete in the world, so there's a lot of ambiguity in terms of what it is supposed to mean.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kyawkyawsoezhu on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 09:59

Can I change this sentence "We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain." to 'Past perfect with before' with this sentence "We drank/finished all the water before we had arrived at the top of the mountain."

Hello kyawkyawsoezhu,

You could use either the past perfect (we had finished) or the past simple (we finished) here. The past simple shows a sequence of actions; the past perfect connects the actions in some way, emphasising that the earlier action had some kind of influence or effect on the later action.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 12:19

Dear Team, Is the following sentence correct? "I have been noticing (present perfect continuous) your progress and found out (past tense) that you have done well (present perfect tense)." Can we use present perfect continuous, past and present perfect in a single sentence like this? Please enlighten me in this regard. Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 16:17

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

It is possible to use the tenses you mention in the same sentence, though of course they can mean different things. I'm not sure what the exact situation and meaning you intend here are, but if I am imagining them correctly, I'd recommend something like 'You have done well and I have noticed your progress' (if that sounds appropriate to you).

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk, I am just writing a little story for some people at my place. That's why I am just caught up by the doubt. I always understand that the tenses we use in a sentence should go along. Say for an example, in a reported speech we say "John told (past) me that Sam bought (past) a book." (in the direct speech - John said to me, "Sam buys a book.") . Here we are changing the present tense (buys) into past tense (bought), because it is reported (said to - told) in the past. So why cannot we do that in all other circumstances? In this example, we start with present perfect continuous (I have been noticing) and we shift to past (found out) and finish with present perfect (have done). My question here is - Can we mix tenses like this? If so.. why we are not doing it (mixing the tenses) in the reported speech? I also know that in the relative clause, subordinate clause and the dependent clause, the tenses can be changed. And I also know that some of the adverbial sentences can have a mix of tenses. So please explain to me in this example (I have been noticing you ..........) how we can mix the tenses? Thank you, Regards, kingson