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?

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 with before

We can also use the past perfect followed by before 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.

Adverbs

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

Intermediate: B1

Hello tssang,

The only correction needed is in the sentence which you highlighted. This should read:

...but he did not return my call.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Peter or other kind helped, I guess the writer put perfect tense ( HAS not returned my call yet ) in that sentence because the writer wanted to show that the father did return call, but he was late as the child couldn't wait and called the police. He might have called back right after the police caught the stranger .If so, will it seem right to you for saying "I tried to call my dad but he HAD not returned my call yet." ? Or still "did not return my call " is better ? Thank you !

Hello tssang,

'Has' here would imply the the speaker is still waiting for the return call now, which is rather unlikely as the situation has resolved itself. Therefore 'had' would be the correct form.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mexbm on Fri, 19/06/2015 - 17:18

Permalink
Hello. I'm confused can we use an other sentence in past besides past simple? Or simple past passive voice? Like for example: Joes had had his new car for 3 days when it was stolen 2. Don was feeling tired because she hadn't slept well the night before.

Hello mexbm,

Yes, those sentences are fine. All past forms have in common a past time reference, but past perfect forms are used when there are two time references. For example, in your sentences the time references are:

having the car and the car being stolen

feeling tired and not sleeping well

If we have only one time reference then we use the past simple.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ayub ali khan on Sat, 30/05/2015 - 11:35

Permalink
plz tell me can we use both and what is difference in meaning of these two sentences 1 SSC had conducted exam 2 SSC conducted exam i know that first sentence in past perfect and second in simple past but sometime i confuse what to use thnxx

Hello Ayub ali khan,

The uses of the two forms are described on the page above. Both refer to past events, but the past perfect needs another event or time reference as it must be before another event; we do not use the past perfect on its own, but rather to show that one event was before another, and had some kind of influence on it.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ayub ali khan on Thu, 28/05/2015 - 10:27

Permalink
hello sir when we use continue double had in a sentence pls explain

Hello Ayub ali khan,

We make the past perfect with [had + past participle]. For example:

I had looked

She had gone

We had seen

'Had' can also be the past participle of 'have', so if we make a sentence with 'have' and we want to put it into the past perfect then the result is:

I had had

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thnx plz solve one more problem i am confused about when to use 'be' in sentence i only know that 'be' uses in passive Voice i want to any other use of 'be'

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 30/05/2015 - 11:00

In reply to by Ayub ali khan

Permalink

Hello Ayub ali khan,

I'm afraid this is too general a question for us to answer here. 'Be' has many roles in English and to list and explain them all would require a very long explanation, which is not the purpose of these comments sections. If you have a particular example then we'll be happy to try to explain it, but please remember that our role here is to maintain the site; answering questions is something we can do only when time allows.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by omprakash jadhav on Sun, 24/05/2015 - 17:54

Permalink
Hi there I wanted to ask a question about vocabulary how to improve it, and i have Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis can i use this book for vocabulary particularly for IELTS. For me its taking too long 3 to 4hrs per day learn new words.

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 25/05/2015 - 08:08

In reply to by omprakash jadhav

Permalink

Hello omprakash,

I'd recommend you read our advice on learning vocabulary on our Help page. Our MyWordBook 2 and IELTS Word Power apps are designed to help with vocabulary acquisition and TakeIELTS has an app called 1001 ways that might also be of interest to you.

By the way, please try to post your comments on a relevant page. For example, this comment would make much more sense on our IELTS or Vocabulary Games pages.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by moonshadow1008 on Thu, 14/05/2015 - 14:27

Permalink
Hi there! Is it possible to combine past perfect and past continuous in one sentence? Ex. I had slept when someone was turning on and off the lights. Thank you in advance.

Hello moonshadow1008,

It is possible, but not in this way. The past perfect shows an action at a time before another action in the past which is in some way related to it. The second action needs to be on ongoing activity for the continuous to be appropriate, which means it need a quite particular context. For example:

I had forgotten that she was walking home.

I had already finished the exam but she was still writing it.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter. Thank you for your response. I am a little confuse though. In what particular context can we use past continuous with past perfect? Could you explain further? Is there a certain name for that context? Thank you.

Hi moodshadow1008,

I'm not sure what else I can say - the answer I gave gives as clear a definition as I can:

The past perfect shows an action at a time before another action in the past; the second action needs to be on ongoing activity for the continuous to be appropriate.

It also provides two examples. There is no name for the context - it is just a logical context for the meanings of the tenses.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by iamginalynlopez on Thu, 14/05/2015 - 05:35

Permalink
..hi can someone clear my mind about when do we use to/for?? please send me more examples.thanks

Hi iamginalynlopez,

These words are used in a great variety of ways, far too many for me to list here! You can see definitions and examples in our Cambridge Dictionaries Online (just type the word into the search window and click 'Look it up!'). If you have any particular examples you'd like to ask about then we'll be happy to try to explain them for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bnpl on Fri, 08/05/2015 - 12:04

Permalink
I’d like to ask something about “Question Tags”. Are the following tags correct? If not, pls kindly tell me the right answers with explanations. Thanks in advance. 1) We needn’t take part in the contest, need we? 2) I wish to buy a new piano, may I? 3) She wishes she can have a new dress, may she? 4) One must never desert one’s friends, must they? 5) Nothing will ever change my dad’s mind, will it? 6) Neither A nor B will help us, will they? 7) I think she will help you, won’t she? 8) None of us will fail the test, shall we? 9) Let me help, will you? 10) Everyone in this class may be the champion, mayn’t they? 11) David ought to study harder, oughtn’t he? 12) Little information was available, was it? 13) What a great movie, isn’t it?

Hello bnpl,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm afraid we don't do users homework. Have you looked at our question tags page? There you can find an explanation with an exercise, which should help you be more confident of your understanding.

If there are a few questions you are particularly unsure, please feel free to ask us about them, but we don't review long lists of sentences like this - better for you to do that on your own.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bnpl on Fri, 08/05/2015 - 11:23

Permalink
Hi, everyone! I’m a new member here. I’ve wanted to improve my English. Hope that I can get help from anyone of you. Thanks a lot in advance.

Submitted by gabiirosa on Mon, 04/05/2015 - 17:23

Permalink
Hi! I have a question, hope you can help me. If I say "these are the pictures I had taken during my year in Canada" for example, is this correct? Why? I mean, this phrase should not have two verbs (one as Past Perfect and one as Simple Past) to be correct? I saw this phrase at some webpage and now I'm wondering if it's right. thanks!

Hi gabiirosa,

I'm afraid this depends on the context. It could be an example of 'causative have' - you 'had the pictures taken' by someone else, who you paid to do it. It could be part of a broader context in which the year in Canada is an earlier past time, referenced in that context. Or it could be a mistake and the past simple may be a better alternative. It really is not possible to say for sure from just the sentence in isolation.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafael darn on Sun, 12/04/2015 - 14:45

Permalink
Can someone clarify this I read an article and I have a doubt about its grammar because the title is (did you know) Why it can be do you know because it's present tense (why past tense is used) If it's correct can I use did you know in every conversation/writing If it's wrong, please clarify do you know vs did you know

Hello Rafael darn,

We use 'did you know' to ask about the past, and 'do you know' to ask about the present.

Did you know John when you were a student? [The speaker knows that I know John now; he is asking about the past]

Do you know John? [The speaker is asking about the present - about now]

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafael darn on Sat, 11/04/2015 - 16:14

Permalink
Hey guys I want to ask a question about fluency in English My friend is pretty darn good at English and he really is fluent whenever he has a coversation with people(not infront of crowd just like casual conversation with anyone). everyone likes him because he can converse in English well even my English teachers always praise him how good he speaks English (almost like the native level) but I don't think he's fluent enough because everytime he gives a speech spontaneously in front of crowd his English is really terrible especially his grammar (happens during giving a speech/talk only). Sometimes I am doubting him because during speech/talk time only I can see his English is a disaster really terrible disorganized words Then I ask him the reason he can't speak English very well during speech in front of unknown people but can speak very well with anyone ( He hardly makes a mistake) he encounters. Then he says he's nervous in front of a lot of people and it makes his brain mentally blank, he doesn't know what to say like completely blank no ideas to talk spontaneously. Guys out there is he weird because in my opinion if one is really fluent in English surely can speak in front crowd. If Nervous is the problem how can I help him because he is my friend.

Submitted by Rafael darn on Sat, 11/04/2015 - 15:49

Permalink
hello english teachers out there Can you explain to me about : This kind/type of thing This kind/type of things These kinds/types of thing These kinds/types of things Do we say this kind of person or kind of people? 2. A lot of people vs a lot person A lot of man vs a lot men Usually after a lot of we use plural form is it correct

Hello Rafael,

First of all, please note that this general topic is covered on our quantifiers page - please be sure to have a look. When 'kind' or 'type' is singular, you should say 'this'; when you use 'kinds' or 'types' (plural), you should say 'these'. What comes after 'of' is most often singular or plural depending on what you mean.

'a lot of' is used with plural count nouns or uncount nouns, but not with singular count nouns. Therefore 'a lot of man' is not generally correct (only when 'man' is used as an uncount noun, which is rare) and 'a lot of person' is not correct. Note that 'a lot men' is not correct, either - the 'of' is necessary: 'a lot of men'.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manobhazarika on Sat, 11/04/2015 - 09:05

Permalink
Would anyone please confirm the correctness of this sentence: "When his father had dissuaded him from buying that property--if he had listened to his father then, he would not have landed in trouble today." My point is that--are we allowed to use the past perfect tense twice consecutively in any sentence? Answer from a native speaker is welcome.

Hello manobhazarika,

It is certainly possible to use two past perfects in the same sentence, but the one you ask about is unnatural. The past perfect 'had dissuaded' could make sense given a certain context, but unless there is some other point in time it is related to, a past simple form would probably make more sense here. Note that the past perfect 'had listened' is part of a third conditional and so has a different time reference than a normal past perfect form.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by suatneo on Wed, 08/04/2015 - 16:04

Permalink
When the bell has just rang, I finished my dinner. The house had been built around 100 AD. Also do resend the invoice to me Are these sentences correct grammatically?

Hello suatneo,

In order, the sentences are incorrect, correct and correct. However, whether the correct ones are be appropriate or not depends on the context in which they are used.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by asma kanwal on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 16:03

Permalink
thank you sir.. and can you suggest me which dictionary is much better for improving english language?

Hello asma,

I'm afraid we can't recommend dictionaries, but please note that there is a very good dictionary with a handy searchbox here on-site: the Cambridge Dictionaries Online on the lower right of each page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by asma kanwal on Mon, 16/03/2015 - 13:12

Permalink
hi sir.. i want to ask you the difference between "for and to" for example this line. come to office to ask anything or come to office for ask anything. which sentence is right in both of them and why?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 08:20

In reply to by asma kanwal

Permalink

Hello asma,

Only the sentence with 'to' is correct here. 'to' and 'for' can both be used to talk about purpose, but are used in different and very diverse ways. 'to' is used as part of an infinitive, whereas 'for' is a preposition and therefore any verb that follows it must go in the -ing form. I'd suggest you look up both words in the dictionary and read through the explanations and examples there.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tanuja ns on Thu, 12/03/2015 - 12:41

Permalink
Sir, Can you please tell me the below sentence is correct? i.e., " When I woke up this morning ,My father had been singing in the kitchen?"

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 13/03/2015 - 07:40

In reply to by tanuja ns

Permalink

Hi tanuja,

More generally, this sentence would probably be 'When I woke up this morning, my father was singing in the kitchen.' Your sentence could be correct, but it implies that he started singing before you woke up; this sentence would be used if that fact were significant in some way, but this is unclear without the context.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by CORCA BAIDY FALL on Sun, 14/12/2014 - 21:23

Permalink
Tank you sir i have problem in the pronouciation and writting and i d'ont know some words

Hello Corca,

For pronunciation, it's important to listen to good models and then to imitate them. Most of our materials in Listen & Watch have materials with recordings and transcripts. Try listening with the transcript (listening and reading). Then try saying the text yourself, and practise it until you pronounce it as closely to the recording as you can.

For writing, you should get feedback from a teacher or knowledgeable friend on your writing. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources to give users individualised feedback on their writing, but you can still use LearnEnglish to do some work on your own.  You can respond to other users in the comment sections to carry on a written conversation, just as I am responding to you now. Good writers learn from reading other writers' texts, so you could learn a lot about writing from reading the content on the site. Our Magazine could be a good place to start if this interests you, and reading will also help you with your vocabulary, i.e. learning more words.

Finally, please note that there is a handy dictionary search box on the lower right side of this page under Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sanjay mandaviya on Sun, 14/12/2014 - 17:30

Permalink
I just have seen the new activity here which was really amezing , I am going to read out some new topics here , but I just want to tell you about my experiance , this has been really good for me to improve English , I really did not get much ideas when I joined it , but now , I have lots off things and I am able to understand what you 're trying to say , it can not have been possible without it , again I would be thank full you too ! I have been member of it since a year ,

Hello sanjay,

Thanks very much for your comment! It's always great to know when people find LearnEnglish useful - that's what we're here for.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by CORCA BAIDY FALL on Fri, 12/12/2014 - 19:08

Permalink
hello friends my name is corca baidy fall and i live in Senegal.I'am a new come and i have got my bacclaureat in this years and now i'am following english in univercity and my level is not better.Can you help memy friends

Hello CORCA BAIDY FALL,

Can you be a little more precise? What exactly do you need or want to practise? What areas of English do you need to improve?

Remember, the more concrete you can be, the more we will be able to help you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Tank you sir i have problem in the pronouciation and writting and i d'ont know some words

Hello Corca,

I already answered this question above - I thought I'd just point this out in case you missed it.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jo lc on Thu, 11/12/2014 - 23:49

Permalink
hi there! I,m new in this amazing website and i´m glad by this one. by the way, i would like to know if i can download the videos of word on the street.
Online courses
Learn English online – with the world's English experts