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)
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Hello kingson,

In your first sentence 'have been noticing' does not work as surely you are describing a single event. 'Have noticed' would be OK, or just 'noticed' since the noticing is not something new (because you have done some later analysis) and can therefore be placed in the past. The second verb there is fine but could be continuous as the analysis can be seen as a single action or event or as an ongoing process over a period of time. Thus the first sentence would be:

"My son, I have noticed / noticed your collection of rocks and have carefully analyzed / have been carefully analyzing the connection among those rocks.

In the second sentence the past simple is fine. However, there is no need for past perfect. Past simple is OK but so is present simple since you are describing something which is still true:

And I noticed that there was / is an array of rocks, which resembled / resembles a pattern.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter. Its another mile stone in my understanding the English grammar.
Regards, kingson

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much for the answers. what about the following sentence, which again carries the present perfect continuous (happening first and continuous) and present perfect (happened after the present perfect).

"It has been raining (present perfect continuous) for the past two days but none of the pots has been filled up (present perfect)."

Please enlighten me in this regard. Please let me know whether this is correct or not.

And also it is only a story. So, I do not need to indicate that the "array of rocks are still resembles a pattern or not." So, can I still use the past perfect (had resembled) here ?

Please help me in this as well.



Dear Peter,

I think I need to rephrase my question.

"My son, I 'have been noticing' (present perfect continuous) your collection of rocks and 'have carefully analyzed' (present perfect) the connection among those rocks."
(in my mind I think) Here, the father still has been noticing, because there could be a chance that the son might collect some more rocks in the future and the father is going to notice it in future as well. So, in that context can I use present perfect continuous (I have been noticing)? And at some point of time (during- the father - noticing the rocks or the son collecting the rocks) the father has analyzed it. This analysis is recent and related to the current situation or the statement that the father is making at the moment. So, please help me to understand this in a precise manner.
I just mentioned the following for an example. I thought this actually resembles the above sentence and gives more meaning to the similar sentence construction.
e.g. "It has been raining (present perfect continuous) for the past two days but none of the pots has been filled up (present perfect)."
Is this (the above mentioned example sentence) correct?

"And I 'noticed' (past tense) that there 'had been' (past perfect) an array of rocks, which 'resembled' a pattern."

And also it is only a story. And the statements are in the past tense. So, there was an array (array of rocks) existed before the point of time of the father noticed them. So, I believe that I do not need to indicate that the "array of rocks are still resembles a pattern or not." So, (in this picture in my mind ) can I still use the past perfect (had been) here ?

Hope, I have made it clear. If not please let me know, and I will rephrase them again. I need really your help in this as I speak and write a lot in English in public forums. Hope, you understand.



Hello again kingson,

The problem here is the meaning of the verb 'notice'. We do not notice over a period of time; we notice in an instant and then may or may not investigate further. If you use a different verb (study, investigate etc) then the continuous form would be possible.

Your second example (with the pots) is fine.


In your next example (I 'noticed' (past tense) that there 'had been' (past perfect) an array of rocks, which 'resembled' a pattern.) I don't see why the past perfect is needed. Presumably the array of rocks still exists when you notice it (the only alternative would be to notice the pattern by looking at a photo of something which no longer exists), so a past simple would be used.


I think we've gone as far as we can with these examples. Remember that perfect forms are very much context-dependent and we are looking at examples without a broader context here.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Mon, 14/08/2023 - 01:27


Dear Team,

Please help me in the following.

Is it right to say...

We have it painted to make it nice.


We had it painted to make it nice.

Please let me know whether these two sentences are grammatically right or not.



Hello kingson,

This is a page on the past perfect so let me point out first of all that neither of these sentences are past perfect. Rather, they are examples of the construction 'have something done', which is known as causative have. We use this when someone performs a service for us, usually for money (a paid service). For example:

I wrote the book. [I'm the author]

I had the book written. [someone else did it for me]

Your question, therefore is about the tense used: in the first example you use the present simple (have) whereas in the second you use the past simple (had). If you are talking about a single event in the past then the past simple is appropriate. If you are talking about something that occurs regularly (every week, for example) then you would use the present simple.

You can read more about causative have here:



The LearnEnglish Team

Great! Another thing for me to learn. I am currently going through the link, you sent.
Thank you so much,

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Fri, 04/08/2023 - 17:32


Could you tell me the difference between these two sentences?
I had ridden a bike before I bumped into Joe
I had been riding a bike before i bumped into Joe?

Hello Khangvo,

Without any other context, the first one means that sometime in your lifetime, you rode a bike before you bumped into Joe. It would be quite an odd thing to say unless there were some situation that made it clear it were talking about another time period other than your lifetime.

The second one means that shortly before bumping into Joe you were riding a bike. This one sounds completely normal.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team