Past Perfect: had + participle

She gave me a DVD for my birthday but I had already seen it.

hadn't heard of the actress until I read about her death in the newspaper.

By the time he arrived, I had finished all the work.

They had never eaten paella until they came to Spain.

The teacher corrected all the homework that his pupils had given him.

My grandmother went to hospital because she had hurt her arm in a fall.

I bumped into a friend in the town centre who I hadn't seen for ages.

A: Had you ever been to Paris before then? B: Yes; I had been there once before.

I had just finished cleaning the floor when the kids came in.

You can see from the above examples that we use the Past Perfect to express an action which happened before a certain time in the past (emphasis is put only on the fact and *not the duration). So the first verb uses Past Perfect and the second Past Simple (they are distinct actions).

* Only with state verbs can we express the duration:
  • She had been in London for five years before she met her husband.
  • I had had the TV for twnty years before it stopped working.
Otherwise we use the Past Perfect Continuous:
  • I had been waiting for an hour before the bus arrived.
  • She had been working there for ten years before she got a promotion.

If the Past Perfect refers to a specific time, we can use the Past Simple with sentences that contain "before" and "after". The words " before" and "after" tell you what happened first so the Past Perfect is optional. So both of the following sentences are correct:
  • He telephoned her after he had met her at the party.
  • He telephoned her after he met her at the party.
But if the first action refers to a lack of experience (and not a specific time), then we can only use the Past Perfect:
  • She had never flown before she went to New York. RIGHT
  • She never flew before she went to New York. WRONG

We also use the Past Perfect to report what people had said or thought:

  • He told me he had done his homework. / "I did my homework"
  • She said that she had had a great time on holiday. / "I had a great time" she said.
  • I thought you had gone home.
See this Grammar Challenge on Reported Speech.

We also use Past Perfect with wishes (for regrets) and 3rd and mixed conditionals:
  • I wish I had listened  to Graham. If I had (listened to him), my English would be much better now.
  • I wish I had taken the car. I would have arrived earlier (if I had taken it).
  • She wishes she hadn't watched the horror movie. If she had watched the other channel, she wouldn't have had a nightmare.
Do the Grammar Challenge on wish + Past Perfect.

In all of the above examples, I have used the long form (no contractions). I did this to make it easier to understand. However you should always try to use contractions when speaking - it will help you with your listening skills. The more you use contractions, the easier it will be to understand them. So:
  • I'd seen ... / I hadn't seen ...
  • You'd taken... / You hadn't taken ...
  • He'd forgotten ... / He hadn't forgotten ...
  • We'd drunk ... / We hadn't drunk ...
  • They'd left ... / They hadn't left ...
Do the Grammar Challenge on Past Perfect Pronunciation.

The Flatmates has an episode on the Past Perfect, one on wish + Past Perfect and one on 3rd conditional.

Read about some Past Perfect doubts.

Do these exercises in Agendaweb on the Past Perfect.

You can find other related activities in the useful links on the left of the page.



Montse said…
Hi, Graham. I've done all exercises about this post. I'm exhausted.
Graham said…
Wow! I'm not surprised. Take a well deserved rest! :-)
Anonymous said…
Graham !!

I have done exercises about wish.

Graham said…
Ok, Felix.

I wish your colleagues would do the same :-)
Alicia said…
I have done reported speech and wish exercises
Graham said…
Good to see you back on the blog, Alicia.
luciti said…
Hi Graham!
I have listened this exercise:

Do the Grammar Challenge on Past Perfect Pronunciation.

It's difficult to me but very interesting.

Graham said…
Keep up the good work, Luciti :-)
Vanessa said…
Hi Graham!

How are you doing?

I`ve been studying English on Sunday. I`ve read this post and the links, very interesting and useful! I`ve done the exercise in Agenda web and I`ve been seeing The Flatmates.

I can`t anymore, I`m exhausted!

See you tomorrow

Graham said…
Hi Vanessa,

I'm doing fine thanks :-)

I'm glad to hear that you are studying so hard. I am sure it will make a difference.

Keep up the good work.