Past Perfect Simple

Past Perfect Simple vs Past Perfect Continuous

Past Perfect simple in English grammar

A lot of learners of English ask these questions: ” What is the use of past perfect?”, ” How do we use past perfect simple?”, ” Can we use past simple instead of past perfect?” “What’s the difference between past perfect simple and continuous?”

  In this post, we will answer all these questions about the past perfect tense.

Past perfect examples  /Past perfect tense examples

  • I had finished my tasks when my boss came.
  • She had returned home before it started to rain.
  • When we arrived at the airport, the plane had taken off.
  • Had you finished preparing lunch by the time they arrived.
  • I had not finished cooking when they arrived.

Past perfect simple form

  • Past perfect simple is formed with the use of had and the past participle of the main verb.
  • We form questions by ‘had’ before the subject.
  • We for negations by putting ‘not’ after ‘had’ 
past perfect simple
Past perfect simple form

Past perfect simple usage: 

When do we use past perfect?

1. The past perfect tense is used to show that one past event/action happened before another past event/action.

past perfect simple


  • When she arrived, he had left.
  • He had left when she arrived.
  • After I had eaten, I drunk a cup of tea.
  • The thief had gone before the police came.

2. It is used to express a past wish.

  • My grandmother wishes she had gone to school.
  • My friend didn’t pass his exam. He wishes he hadn’t wasted much time on social media.

3. We use the past perfect simple to show cause and effect.

  • She got a good mark because she had studied hard.
  • She was crying because someone had broken her favorite vase.

4. Past perfect simple is used in reported speech.

  • He said he had finished his work.
  • They told me that they had been to Turkey many times.

Past perfect time expressions

Past perfect simple is often used with the following words and phrases:

When, by, by the time, before, after, already, till/ until, and just.

Past perfect sentences with expressions

  • When I got to the train station, the train had left.
  • My boss hadn’t arrived at the office by the time I got there.
  • He had done all his homework before he watched the movie.
  • I took the decision after I had spoken to my dad.
  • The programme had just ended when I turned on the TV.


Using the past simple or the past perfect simple can change the meaning of a sentence.

1. The train left when I arrived. (= I arrived and then the train left.)

2. The train had left when I arrived. ( = the train left and then I arrived.)

Past perfect tense exercises

Do these past perfect exercises

A- Circle the right time expression

  1. I had yet/just finished watching a documentary when my friends knocked at the door.
  2. When I arrived home, she still/ just hadn’t done her homework.
  3. By the time/while we got to the match, our team had scored 2 goals.
  4. We had finished our meal when/while she arrived.

B- Complete the sentences using the past perfect forms of the verbs between brackets.

  1. I could not buy it because I ………………………(spend) all my money.
  2. When my friend appeared, I ………………(start) the car.
  3. They didn’t do well in the test because they ……………………..(not/prepare) well for it.
  4. He got a higher mark in the exam because he ……………………(study) harder.
  5. After we (pass) ………………….the exam, we went out to celebrate.
  6. When we …………………(finish) eating lunch, we went for a walk.
  7. I ……………(go) to bed when Jack telephoned.
  8. Robert told me that his father …………………(travel) to Australia.
  9. I wish I …………..(not/attend) the party. 
  10. When the manager came back, Tim (contact)………………….ten customers.
  11. She said that she …………………….(try) to call me earlier.
  12. When I got home last night, I realized I ………….(lose) my keys.

Visitors also read: 

Past perfect simple: English language video


Past perfect continuous tense/ Past perfect progressive

Example: My father had been working for this multinational company for 20 years.


subject + had been + verb + ing


1. We use past perfect progressive to show that an action started in the past and continued up until another action took place.


  • They had been playing football when George broke his leg.
  • We had been watching a movie when the light went out.

2. Past perfect continuous tense is used to explain why an action or feeling occurred.


  • I was very tired. I had been revising for the exam for more than four hours.
  • He put on weight because he had been overeating.

3. We use past perfect continuous to talk about the duration of an activity that continued up to a specified point in the past.


  • I had been learning Chinese for 6 months before I moved to Beijing.
  • My dad had been working for 30 years when he retired.

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