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
Read the explanation to learn more.
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
It's difficult to say without at least knowing the context, but, for example, 1 could be something an English student said. For example, imagine one of my Spanish students went to study in the UK and I visited him there after he'd been there a few weeks. He might say something like 1 to me to refer to his time in the UK.
Knowing exactly what 2 means is also context dependent. Maybe someone who lives in a noisy house full of people would say this. Or it could be someone who's been ill and didn't expect to be able to concentrate. In either case, they are speaking about a period of time that began sometime in the past and which has just finished or is still continuing at the moment of speaking.
You can see more examples of this on our Present perfect page.
All the best
The LearnEnglish Team
Although it's hard to be sure without knowing the full context, I would suggest the following:
The first sentence is simply a statement about a finished past time so past simple is required. We use past perfect when we are looking back from a later (past) date, as in the second sentence where we are looking back from 'a month later' to the period before.
You can read more about the past perfect on these pages:
Talking about the past
The LearnEnglish Team