Past perfect

This page shows the most common uses of the past perfect in English, together with many examples and links to other resources.

For actions that happened before a past event

When we want to talk about an action that happened before a past event, we often use the past perfect. Look at these examples:

  • When I got home yesterday, my father had already cooked dinner.
  • I didn't want to go to the movies with my friends because I had seen the film already.
  • My friend offered me an apple in class yesterday, but I wasn't hungry because I had just eaten lunch.
  • I arrived very late at the party. All my friends had already gone home.
  • As soon as she had done her homework, she went to bed.
  • [Passive] The parents went to bed after the baby had been fed.
  • I was very tired as I hadn't slept well for several days.
  • Had you seen the film before?

Notice how often words like already, just, never are used with the past perfect.

In reported speech

The past perfect is common when we report people's words or thoughts, as in the following examples:

  • John said that he had never eaten sushi before.
  • She told me that she had finished, but I knew she had not.
  • She wondered why he had been so unkind to her.
  • [Passive] I didn't know if the door had been locked.
  • He told me he hadn't done his homework, but he was hoping to finish it on the bus.
  • I thought I had sent her a birthday card, but I was wrong.

More on reported speech

In if (conditional) sentences

The past perfect tense is used in unreal or hypothetical situations, as in the following sentences:

  • If I had known you were in Frankfurt, I would have called you (but I didn't know you were here, so I didn't call you!)
  • If I had had enough money, I would have bought you a better present. (but I didn't have enough money.)
  • I would have been very angry if you had laughed when I got the answer wrong. (but you didn't laugh, so I wasn't angry.)
  • [Passive] I would not have done that if I had been told she was unwell (but I wasn't told, so I did say it.)
  • She wouldn't have been able to finish, if you hadn't helped her. (but you did help her and she did finish.)
  • I wish I had studied for my exams. (but I didn't study - and I got bad grades!)
  • I would have been in big trouble if you hadn't helped me. (but you did help me so I stayed out of trouble.)

More on the conditional

More resources for learning the past perfect

Go to a page with a conjugation of the past perfect in positive statements, negative statements and questions.

Here you can learn about the past perfect continuous .

There are several interactive quizzes on the past perfect in the Verb grammar: Tenses drop-down menu on the Grammar index.