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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


Dear Jonathan,
Your answer made me to think more. So far I have heard that the past perfect needs a past action reference. But in your answer you mentioned that we could have a present prefect (reference)to have a past perfect tense in a sentence. Could you please give me an example for this?
Thank you,

Hi kingsonselvaraj,

That's not quite it. The present perfect isn't for the referred-to action. What I wanted to say was that the present perfect is an option to correct the verb tense in the original sentence. If we analyse the sentence alone (i.e. without the context of any other sentences in the conversation), the tense needs to change to one of these options.

  • Did the show start already? (past simple)
  • Has the show started already? (present perfect)

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much, Jonathan,


As your explanation Sir Peter,
We use Past Perfect when there are two past time references (then and before then) and
the earlier action has influence or affects to the later action.
We use Past simple when there is one single event or sequence of actions(which do not influence or affect to the later action)
Am I correct Sir?
Also, correct me like before.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Yes, I think that's a reasonable summary. The context is always important, of course, as a second time may be implied rather than explicitly stated.

We don't correct posts on LearnEnglish. I know correction is very useful, but we have many thousands of users and reply to many comments every day. It's just not possible for us to correct user posts, unfortunately.



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Team,
I'm so confused with Past Perfect and Past Simple.
Which Sentence would be correct?

"Blinding Lights" makes me feel the time that I'd not even lived in (past perfect)
"Blinding Lights" makes me feel the time that
I didn't even live in (Past simple)

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Your example isn't a well structured sentence, I'm afraid. I'll try and reformulate it below and then comment on the verb form.


"Blinding Lights" makes me feel like I'm in a time that I didn't even live in.

We use the past simple here because we have only one past time reference.

We use the past perfect when we have two past time references: then and before then. If the sentence were about how you felt in the past then the past pefect could be used:

"Blinding Lights" made me feel like I was in a time that I hadn't even live in.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank You, Sir,
But I was wondering
If I could use Present Perfect instead.
I've read Present Perfect shows Experiences.
Then, Sir,
"Blinding lights" makes me feel like I am in a time that I haven't even lived in.

Does it correct?
Thanks again, Sir,
Stay Safe

Hello DaniWeebKage,

Yes, that is grammatically possible. The sentence is describing a feeling or an impression rather than something concrete in the world, so there's a lot of ambiguity in terms of what it is supposed to mean.



The LearnEnglish Team

Can I change this sentence "We'd finished all the water before we were halfway up the mountain." to 'Past perfect with before' with this sentence

"We drank/finished all the water before we had arrived at the top of the mountain."