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.


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 jo lc,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm glad to hear you like the site and I hope we can help you to improve your English.

I'm afraid the videos of Word on the Street are not available for download, for legal and technical reasons. However, you can download the transcripts for each episode and you can access them online as often as you wish.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amir G on Wed, 10/12/2014 - 15:44

Hello kirk, I sometimes get confused with past perfect tense and present perfect tense. Did you have food vs Have you had food. Did you go to a doctor vs Have you been to a doctor. Could you please tell me which one to be used when like in what situations ? Thanks in advance.

Submitted by MONAD ABBASI on Sat, 25/10/2014 - 13:56

I'm a beginner and I'm learning english I'm little bit confused pas perfet tense normally we used had been but I'm which condition we use had been and third form if verb.. Example you'd been invited as well ?? Can u clear me this tense

Hello Monad Abbasi,

'had been' plus the third form of a verb is an example of a passive verb in the past perfect. Please see our active and passive voice page for an explanation of the passive, which I think will answer your question. But if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask them there.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by leonardo999 on Tue, 24/06/2014 - 10:11

Hi everyone, can anyone tell me the sentence " I knew Johnson for 15 minutes" is possible and correct as i am trying to suggest that Johnson was alive before 15 minutes so at that time i met him but shockly i get news about him that he was passed away, so is it correct to say " I knew johnson for 15 minutes"?

Hello leonardo999,

Yes, that sentence is correct in that context.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by leonardo999 on Mon, 23/06/2014 - 21:53

Respectful sir, Primarly i want to thank all of the ones who cooperated and worked in creating such an amazing cultural and educational site that always helps us in solving linguistic matters. Anyway, for my concerns i would like to ask you that the sentence i have provided to you below is correct according to grammer ,if not please explain it to me because this sentence is proven wrong by some online digital grammer checkers online. I spread peace and love when i had known the world is sacred. ( is it correct in accordance to grammer in general) SOURCE: I Learned How To Sing When Love Became My Major... I Learned How To Dance When Music Became My Favourite... I Spread Peace And Love When I Had Known The World Is Sacred... I Was Gone From This World When My Mission Had Been Faded... I Always Loved Ones Though They Related Me To The Hatred... And I will Haunt You Forever With That Peace You Had To Never... I will be thankful if you explain it in detail. LEO

Hello leonardo999,

It's hard without knowing the context to be sure what the correct form should be of the sentence, but the verb form in the second half of the sentence needs to be changed. I suspect also that 'know' is not the correct verb here as you appear to be using it as an action or dynamic verb rather than a state verb; for this meaning you need to say 'get to know' or 'learn'.

I think the correct sentence would be:

I spread peace and love when i learned (that) the world is sacred.

However, as I said, without the context I cannot be sure that this is the intended meaning.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ubaiz on Mon, 23/06/2014 - 08:42

I,m very happy that i reached the right trying to improve my communication skill, the problem is when am talking geting confused about the tenses and grammar. so im getting stucked in between the talk. I hope i can overcome the problems and improve it to a good level

Submitted by chamildiss on Wed, 11/06/2014 - 08:28

Can you please help me with this..... I have visited Russia several times, but can i say if i am not going there again ( i visited Russia several times)

Hi chamildiss,

You can say "I have visited" (present perfect) or "I visited" (past simple); whether you return to Russia or not doesn't influence which form to use. The difference between these two forms is a matter of perspective. If you use the present perfect, the implied context is "in my lifetime until now" and if you use the past simple, you're simply stating a fact about the past. Neither of these statements make any suggestion about the future. You might find our talking about the past page useful to review the different forms used to speak about the past.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

If the action is not in progress and has already stopped you can use Present Perfect of course, Chamildiss, So: I have been to Russia several times.

Submitted by RuhiyyeResul on Thu, 15/05/2014 - 19:24

I prepared worksheets on Past Perfect using this page, a good test I had for my 8th graders...

Submitted by Mouh Gourda on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 22:05

Dear sir kirk i'm really happy to be integrated in your social environment. i have a really low level, in the writing, reading and speaking. I need some guidance to learn english because i really have to improve level. thank you Mohamed

Hello Mohamed,

We're glad you're here as well! Have you looked around the site? I'd suggest that as a first step, as there are lots of different resources here.

What do you need to use English for? If, for example, you need it to study at university, then I would recommend working through our section on academic writing called Writing for a Purpose. If you need it for work, then I expect that you would find some useful content and practice in our Business & Work section. If you need to get a good mark on the IELTS exam, then our IELTS section would be really helpfu.

If you just want to improve in general and have no specific needs for now, I'd recommend working through different parts of Listen & Watch. Many users find the Elementary Podcasts and Big City Small World to be really helpful, and both have lots of exercises and downloadable content as well.

I hope that gives you some idea of the possibilities here. If your needs are different, then please let us know more specifically what they are, and we'll be happy to guide you.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Joanik78 on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 10:37


I'm very happy to stay here in Bristish :)

Submitted by Olga Malynych on Tue, 28/01/2014 - 09:50


Hello everyone. I'm a new member here. I'm from Ukraine. English is my hobby and profession at the same time. It's easily for me to understand English but rather difficult to speak and write right. I hope to improve it with your help.

Submitted by noorzai on Tue, 28/01/2014 - 05:49

HI i am noorzai from india my english is not very good and for that i am trying this website please help me to improve my english THANKS

Hello noorzai,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! There are lots of resources here, and I'd encourage you to look through the different sections to get an idea of the possibilities.

Or, if you already know, for example, that you want to work on your listening or speaking, I'd suggest listening to our audio and video materials (there are several sections under Listen & Watch). There are transcripts and exercises to help you improve your listening comprehension, and you can use the audio as a model that you can imitate to learn new expressions and improve your pronunciation.

Whatever you do, it's best to try to have contact with English every day, even if it's only for a short time. Little by little, you should see that you improve!

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ANA SOUZA on Sun, 26/01/2014 - 14:50


I'm very happy to stay here!!!


Submitted by Atul Agarwal on Thu, 23/01/2014 - 14:19


Hi SIr,


I am very happy joining it.

Thank you very much for creating this site.


Submitted by Ringsey on Wed, 22/01/2014 - 04:31


Hi everyone,

I am the new member in this community. I do need your help with my English practical. My most concern about English is speaking.


Hi Ringsey,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! To work on your speaking, I'd suggest working with our audio and video materials under Listen & Watch, and would particularly recommend Series 3 of the Elementary Podcasts as a good place to start. There are transcripts and exercises to help you improve your listening comprehension, and you can use the audio as a model that you can imitate to learn new expressions and improve your pronunciation and oral fluency, which will also increase your confidence.

It's also of course essential to speak with other people as often as you can. Perhaps you have a friend or colleague or family member who knows some English - try speaking only in English with that person, or at least part of the time only in English. If you can, use some of the expressions you learned from the podcasts when you're speaking.

Whatever you do, it's best to try to have contact with English every day, even if it's only for a short time. Little by little, you should see that you improve!

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Frank William on Tue, 21/01/2014 - 06:28


Dear Sir,

I dream to be an author of English language.I should inform you that My native language is not English.When I sit  to write I  don't get the right word at the right time.I think i happens as I am a first year university student.I would like to learn a lot of words.Please give few but effwctive tips you think will work for me.


I look forward to your answer.

Thank you


Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 21/01/2014 - 08:37

In reply to by Frank William


Hello Frank,

To improve your writing (including word usage), it's important to read and write as much as you can. It would also be really helpful to get feedback from a teacher or knowledgable friend on your writing if possible. Unfortunately, we don't have the resources to give users individualized feedback on their writing, but you can still use LearnEnglish to do quite a lot of work on your own.

If you're interested in academic writing, see our section called Writing for a Purpose. 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. The Magazine or Stories & Poems sections might be good places to start if this interests you. You can also of course carry on written conversations there in the comments as well.

Whatever you do, try to spend at least 15 minutes a day (or at least several days per week) reading and writing. When you have doubts, ask a friend or teacher, or you're also welcome to ask us periodically here.

Good luck and don't give up!

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by maluram on Fri, 03/01/2014 - 11:10


Hi Sir, 

The following question has been confusing me since long.

Steve: I didn't get your email

me:  But I had sent it to you

In the above conversation i want to say that i had sent that email long before he checked it or as soon as i was told to do it.  So is my answer right or wrong ?

Because i am not specifying any activity that happened before .....i.e. i am using only half part of past perfect tense so does that make my answer wrong?





Hi maluram,

Your answer is possible given a specific context, though personally I would use the past simple and include an explicit time reference in your answer, e.g.: "But I sent it to you on Wednesday".

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tanuja ns on Mon, 09/12/2013 - 12:21


Hello sir,

There is a little confusion for me in using present perfect and simple past..

For example..when we will use "i have taken the book" ,"i took the book"..

Online courses
Learn English online – with the world's English experts