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


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The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by D8023 on Wed, 09/01/2019 - 21:18

Hello leanenglish team, I get confused a lot in the use of past perfect continuous and the present perfect continuous. Any advice?

Hello D8023,

We have a number of pages dealing with these verb forms in our main grammar section and in our Intermediate grammar section.

It's not really possible for us to provide long explanations in the comments sections, but if you have a particular example which you find confusing then we'll be happy to try to clarify it for you.



The LearnEnglish Team

well, for example, this two. do they mean the same thing? I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school. I have worked here since I left school.

Hi D8023

In this case, only 'I had worked' (había trabajado) is the correct form (not 'have worked' -- he trabajado). The sequence of events is this: 1. you started working in the factory, 2. the factory closed, 3. you were sorry. By saying 'had worked', it's clear that your working there was before the factory closed and you were sorry.

If you said 'have worked', it suggests that you are still working there now. This doesn't make sense since earlier you said the factory already closed. If you said Estuve triste cuando la fábrica cerró. He trabajado ahí desde que dejé el colegio it would sound strange, right? It would sound the same way in English.

The present perfect always refers to or touches the present time in some way -- its reference point is the present--whereas the past perfect has a past time as a reference point.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

for example this one: They had been waiting long when the bus arrived-just a few minutes. is this correct?

Hello D8023,

The past perfect is correct there, though the sentence has a small error You could say:

They had been waiting for a long time when the bus arrived.


They hadn't been waiting long when the bus arrived – just a few minutes.


The past perfect is used because the action (waiting) began in the past and continued up to another time in the past (the bus's arrival).


You could say the same thing about an action which began in the past (waiting) and continued up to the present (the moment of speaking). In this case you would use the present perfect:

They have been waiting for a long time (now).


They haven't been waiting long (yet) – just a few minutes.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shubhamgupta on Fri, 28/12/2018 - 05:27

again i need assistance from u sir,, and this is like... i was chatting with one of my friends she said--- my phone was not with me ,it was with my roommate. me---------- why you had even given your phone to her???? was my reply grammatically correct? was the past perfect used here correct? and if i was wrong then what should i would have said? thank u sir

Hello shubhamgupta,

It's a little hard to tell without knowing the exact situation, but I think the past perfect or past simple could be used here. The woman is talking about a time in the past (not having the phone) and you are asking about something earlier which is related to this (giving the phone to her roommate)

My phone was not with me, it was with my roommate.

Why had you even given your phone to her? / Why did you even give your phone to her?



The LearnEnglish Team