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: 4.1 (45 votes)
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Submitted by Manar Ragheb on Sat, 04/01/2020 - 16:41

dear sir , I'm very confused So, I would like to explain the difference between the past perfect and past simple in this example : James had cooked breakfast when we got up. James cooked breakfast when we got up. why in 1st sentence do we use past perfect and in 2nd only past simple ? Is it depend on the order of actions only ?

Hello Manar Ragheb,

There is a difference in meaning:

In the first sentence (had cooked) the cooking is finished before you got up.

In the second sentence (cooked) the cooking began when you got up.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Wed, 01/01/2020 - 05:45

Dear Sir, Please let me know what is the difference between the following sentences. What people say of me? What people say about me? And what is the meaning of "of" in the following sentence? Forgive us of our sins. Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Wed, 01/01/2020 - 08:38

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson,

I would recommend you use 'about', which is the most commonly used preposition in cases such as these. 'of' is not incorrect, it's just a bit archaic and would make you sound strange in most contexts.

By the way, both of the questions are incorrect in standard British (or American) English: questions in the present simple use the auxiliary verb 'do': 'What do people say about me?'.

'Forgive us of our sins' is another archaic form; it means the same thing as 'forgive us our sins' and is part of a passage from the Christian Bible that is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team


Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Thu, 26/12/2019 - 05:00

Dear Sir, What is the difference between the following three phrases? "Call to me" "Call unto me" "Call me" Thank you, Regards, kingson
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 26/12/2019 - 09:05

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello kingson

If you haven't already, the first thing I'd recommend is that you carefully study example sentences in the dictionary. As you can see there, this verb has quite a few different meanings. 'Call me', by the far the most common of the three you ask about, can therefore mean quite a few different things which you can see perfectly well in the dictionary.

It's difficult for me to imagine all possible situations in which one might say 'Call to me', but in general I'd say it is a way of giving instructions to someone to get my attention at some point in time.

'Call unto me' is not really used outside of very specific contexts any more. You might find it in a passage from an older translation of the Bible, for example, but it would be quite unusual to hear or read it in most places nowadays.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Tue, 17/12/2019 - 10:59

Dear Sir, I have asked few questions on the following sentence and got excellent answers from you. But I still have a question on the same sentence. " My friend got married (past time reference) to a girl who had been working here in this office".(The girl is currently working in the same office) If I use past perfect (had been working), it works well with time reference(past tense- got married). But it ignores that the girl still works in the same office. So please let me know which way I can form this sentence better. Thank you, Regards, kingson
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 18/12/2019 - 07:37

In reply to by kingsonselvaraj


Hello Kingson,

If the girl works in the office now then a present simple is the most obvious choice:

My friend got married to a girl who works here in this office.

Of course, this does not tell us that the girl worked in the office when your friend got married, though that would be the most likely way to understand the sentence. If you needed to make it explicit, then you would need to add the information separately:

My friend got married to a girl who worked here in this office. She still works here.

My friend got married to a girl from this office. She still works here.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, Thank you very much for your service. It's really throwing light on some darker areas. Have a happy New year. Regards, kingson

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Mon, 09/12/2019 - 16:42

Dear Sir, "Since you were honest to me, I have chosen you as my secretary". Here, there is a past tense and a present perfect in a sentence. Is the sentence correct with these two tenses together? Does the past tense plays an adverbial function here in this sentence? Thank you, Regards, kingson