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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Submitted by ridhi on Mon, 12/06/2023 - 20:15


Dear Sir,

I was going through an article and got stuck.
Could you please elaborate a little why the usage of past perfect (had spewed)would be wrong in this case.To my understanding that event happened first.
Please help 🙏
Thank you!

The arrival of the monsoon did something more than just get rid of the scorching heat.It showed how non- human life forms despite all the heat the universe SPEWED, continued to turn,and change and evolve.

Hello ridhi,

The past perfect would be fine here.

The past perfect would emphasise that the relevant spewing occurred before the arrival of the monsoon. The past simple does not make this clear. It could be that the spewing ended before or with the onset of the monsoon, or it could continue unbroken.

The past perfect is rarely required. It is usually an option used when the author wishes to emphasise a connection of some sort between a past event and an earlier event.



The LearnEnglish Team

Ohh ok..that means there is no hard and fast rule to use past perfect even if the event happened first,one can ignore and continue in simple past ,it all depends on the speaker/author if he wants to emphasize a connection between two events or not.
Have I understood correctly sir!
Thank you!
(Sorry for the repetitive question sir)

Hello ridhi,

Yes, it sounds as if you've understood correctly. In general, the past perfect is used for emphasis and is not required when talking about events in the past.

There are some occasions when have to use a past perfect form, but they are different. For example, in a third conditional, the past perfect isn't talking about a normal past, it's talking about an unreal/imaginary past event (that hasn't even happened). If we want to talk about an imaginary past event in this way, the past perfect form is necessary. But I don't think that's what you were asking about! I just thought I would mention it.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by ismayil175 on Wed, 07/06/2023 - 22:22


Dear Teachers,
I have a question about past simple/perfect.
Let me write question so that I can understand.
1)When I ____ the letter, I _____ it away.
a) read / had thrown
b) had read / had thrown
c) had read / threw
d) read / threw
e) reading / throw
2) As soon as he _____ his driving test, he _____ a car.
a) passed / brought
b) had passed / bought
c) passes / had bought
d) passed / had bought
e) did passed/ had bought
When I ____(start) my training, I ___(change) my diet completely.

Please in the above question help me to understand. If the answer is b please tell the reason.
Thanks in advance

Hello ismayil175,

In sentences like these where there are two actions we usually have a choice. If we want to show a sequence without any particular connection between the two actions then two past simples are used: I did this after I did that.

However, if the two actions are connected and we want to emphasise the connection, showing for example that one action caused another or had an influence on it, then the past perfect (for the earlier action) and the past simple tend to be used: I did this after I had done that.


Thus, in your sentences, both 1c and 1d are possible, and 2a and 2b are possible.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for helping me to understand.
But based on those question which is suitable?
Thanks in advance.

Hello again ismayil175,

As I said, the possible answers are 1c and 1d, and 2a and 2b.

Out of these pairs, neither is better or worse so I can't tell you which to choose. It depends on how the speaker sees the situation and what he or she chooses to say. Both answers in each pair are good.



The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user khaledAl5

Submitted by khaledAl5 on Tue, 06/06/2023 - 21:27


Dear teachers,

According to the past perfect simple and past perfect continuous, we use them for an action or a situation that happened before another action or point in the past. But the question is, can we know what time the action in past perfect simple and continuous happened, and can we know if the action in past perfect simple and continuous continued until the action in simple past happened?

_ I had studied for one hour when my friend called me.
In this example, I finished studying before the call OR I finished the studying exactly at the same time when my friend called?

_ I had been studying for one hour when my friend called me.
In this example, I finished studying before the call OR I finished the studying exactly at the same time when my friend called?

And every time I use past perfect that means the action finishes before the simple past action OR sometimes finishes at the same time?

And every time I use past perfect continuous that means the action finishes before the simple past action OR sometimes finishes at the same time?

And these tenses could be interchangeably?

Excuse me for this long question
Thank you so much for your time