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

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Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 13:23

What is the difference between "Are you the one, who was going to come or do we need to expect another" or "Are you the one, who have been going to come or do we need to expect another"?

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 04:52

Why a simple present tense in the direct speech, becomes a past tense in the indirect speech (eg. Direct - He said to me "She goes to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she went to shop) Whereas the past tense in direct speech becomes past perfect in the indirect speech? (eg. Direct - He said to me "She went to the shop." Indirect - He told me that she had gone to the shop) Is there any difference? Regards, kingson

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Fri, 02/08/2019 - 04:46

Dear Peter, Can I say "My friend got married married to a girl who had already been working here" (If the girl is still working the office currently) Regards kingson

Submitted by Englishlearner123 on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 19:58

Hello Kirk. Thank you the explanation was extremely clear. But I am confused a little about the next statement: I am wondering why the past perfect continuous is used here instead of the past continuous. "-I knew a man who tried to cheat in an exam by writing all the answers on the sole of his shoes. -Did he pass? -No. It had been raining, so the ink had washed off. " Is it possible to use both perfect and perfect continuous tenses here and why? Sorry for disturbing you. Thanks in advance

Hello Englishlearner123

Yes, that sentence is perfectly natural and correct. In this case, the continuous form is describing the background situation (which is a common usage of the continuous aspect) and the simple form is clarifying the relative sequence of events.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Mon, 01/07/2019 - 20:14

Dear Sir, I have seen the following question and answer in a spoken English book. Kindly tell me whether the answer of the question is correct. As far as I know "should have" is used as an advice. For example "You should have gone there". It is used in past situations. But in the following answer "should have" is used in a future situation. How is it possible sir?. So can I say now "today evening I should have left this place" (suppose now the time is 10 'o clock in the morning). Que:Will you have passed tenth class examination by the next year? Ans:Yes, I should have passed it by that time. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Tue, 02/07/2019 - 06:53

In reply to by Aniyanmon


Hello Aniyanmon

We're happy to help you, but please remember two important things: 1) we ask that you try to ask your question on a relevant page and 2) we don't promise to explain grammar from other sources.

It's easy to find a page on modal verbs or modals with 'have', for example.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Coffin Dodger on Mon, 01/07/2019 - 17:21

Hello, I'm ever sorry to bother, but I got confused a little. Let's Imagine that yesterday I went to a club and I'm telling my buddie a story. A) " Listen, from the momemt I had entered, she had not taken her eyes off of me. But then, suddenly, she got up and approached me. " B) " From the moment I had moved to London, I hadn't had a friend. I was alone then. "

Hello Coffin Dodger

You can use the past perfect like that. People often use the past simple instead of the past perfect when that is possible. That is the case here, i.e. you could use the past simple in place of the past perfect in all of those verbs.

If you had a different questions, please let us know.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Aniyanmon

Submitted by Aniyanmon on Sat, 29/06/2019 - 04:31

Thanks a lot Kirk Sir for your clarification.