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 (72 votes)
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Hi Hermit Crab,

They are both grammatically correct. In sentence 1, the past perfect shows that "had gotten lost" happened first, and is the reason for "I had no idea where I was". Sentence 2 also shows that "got lost" happened first, simply by mentioning it first in the sentence. 

The past perfect in sentence 1 shows that "had gotten lost" is not what the speaker is really focusing on. The focus of the speaker is on "I had no idea where I was" (past simple), and "I had gotten lost" is only a contextual detail for that action (i.e. it's the reason why I had no idea where I was). In sentence 2, both verbs are in the past simple, which makes it sound like the speaker is telling a series of events, one by one, focusing on each one in turn.

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by anhtuan01995 on Thu, 11/05/2023 - 13:13


Hi Team,

I'm a bit confused about this sentence, could you please enlighten me on this?
1. I had already been offered a job at the bank when we first met.
2. I was already offered a job at the bank when we first met.
Which one is correct? And, can I use 'already' with past simple, or is it a sign of past perfect tense only?
Thank you.

Hello anhtuan01995,

1 is correct.

'already' can be used with both past simple and past perfect. In 2, because of the word 'already', it's clear that the job offer was made before we met. Since it happened first and since it's explained as a condition in place when we met, it's incongruous to use the past simple. The past perfect is the correct choice.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by kingsonselvaraj on Sun, 16/04/2023 - 03:22


Dear Team,

What is the difference between the following two sentences?

1. If I had money, I would have bought it.
2. If I had had money, I would have bought it.

Please help me in this regard.
Thank you,

Hello kingsonselvaraj,

Both of these sentences describe a past action which did not happen ("I would have bought it"); the difference is in the cause expressed in the if-clause.

In the second sentence, the speaker did not have money at the time. They may be rich now and they may have been rich before, but at the time they could have bought the item they did not have money.

In the first sentence, the speaker is not wealthy enough in general. This is not a sentence about a particular moment but rather a general statement about their life - they are not a wealthy person.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much, Peter for your answer.

Please let me know, is there any difference between the following two sentences.

1. If I had money, I would buy it.

2. If I had had money, I would buy it.

Thank you,



Hello kingson,

The first sentence is fine. It describes an imagined alternative present. You don't have the money and therefore can't buy it.

The second sentence does not make sense. The first part (the if-clause) describes an unreal past situation; the second describes an unreal present situation. Grammatically, this is fine, but in terms of the particular meaning of this example it is problematic. To buy something in the present you need to have the money. Why would past possession (completed past time) influence your ability to buy something in the present?



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your answer.
in that case, is the following sentence correct?
Ex: If he had not broken the glass, he would not fix it. (I hope, the particular meaning of this example is not problematic, here)
Please help me in this regard.

Hello again kingson,

The sentence is grammatically correct. It describes a counter-factual past (he did break the glass; we are imagining an alternative) and the present or future resulting from that. The implication is that he will fix the glass and therefore we can assume that he did, in fact, break it. The sentence could be an answer to the question 'How do you know it was him who broke the glass?'



The LearnEnglish Team