PAST PERFECT SIMPLE (=Pluskvamperfekt)

I felt really tired when I took the train to work yesterday because Sarah and I had been to a party the evening before. We hadn’t gone to bed until after one. I hadn’t been on the train long when I had a bit of a shock. I suddenly realised that I had left my wallet at home. Then I began to wonder. Had I left it in the office the day before? I just couldn’t remember. I wanted to go back to bed. I felt awful.

The situation is in the past (I took the train … I felt tired …) When we talk about things before this past time, we use the past perfect. Sarah and I had been to a party the evening before. I had left my wallet at home.

The person who is telling the story is looking back from the situation of the train journey to the earlier actions – going to a party and leaving home without the wallet.

Here are some more examples of the past perfect.

It was twenty to six. Most of the shops had just closed. I went to the box office at lunch-time, but they had already sold all the tickets. By 1960 most of Britain’s old colonies had become independent.

As well as actions, we can use the past perfect to talk about states.

I felt better by the summer, but the doctor warned me not to do too much. I’d been very ill. The news came as no surprise to me. I’d known for some time that the factory was likely to close.


The past perfect is had + a past participle.

  • He had enjoyed the party.
  • They hadn’t gone to bed until late. Where had he put his wallet?

Present perfect and past perfect. What is the difference? Compare the examples below.

PRESENT PERFECT (before now)

  • My wallet isn’t here. I’ve left it behind.
  • The match is over. United have won.
  • That man looks familiar. I’ve seen him somewhere before.

PAST PERFECT (before then)

  • My wallet wasn’t there. I’d left it behind.
  • The match was over. United had won.
  • The man looked familiar. I’d seen him somewhere before.


Read the following conversation

-I fell down the steps here and I broke my leg. I’d taken the bus into town and I’d been swimming in the pool here.

The person in the conversation is talking about a situation in the past (I fell and broke my leg).

When we look back to something before this past time, we use the past perfect simple or the past perfect continuous.

  • Past perfect simple: I had taken a bus into town.
  • Past perfect continuous: I had been swimming in the pool.

We use the past perfect continuous for an action which happened over a period of time.

The swimming went on for some time before David broke his leg.


The past perfect continuous is had been + an ing-form. 

  • I had been waiting ages.
  • I had not been paying attention.
  • Was the ground wet? Had it been raining?

I had been doing or I had done?

Compare the past perfect continuous and simple.

OVER A PERIOD (had been doing)

I found the calculator. I’d been looking for it for ages. Vicky felt tired because she’d been working all day. We are thinking of Vicky’s work going on as she got tired.

We normally use the continuous with a phrase saying how long.

  • When the company went bankrupt, it had been losing money for months.

COMPLETE (had done)

I finally bought a new calculator. I’d looked everywhere for the old one. Vicky felt pleased because she had done so much. We are thinking of Vicky’s work as complete.

Comparison with other continuous forms

Compare the present perfect continuous (has/have been doing) and the past perfect continuous.

  • Vicky looks very upset. I think she’s been crying.
  • Vicky looked very upset. I thought she’d been crying.

Compare the past continuous (was doing) and the past perfect continuous.

  • When I phoned, Natasha was having a piano lesson. (I phoned during the lesson.)
  • When I phoned, Natasha had been having a piano lesson. (I phoned after the lesson.)
Past perfect simple (=pluskvamperfekt) Past perfect continuous (=pluskvamperfekt)
I/he/she/it/we/you/they – had gone, had driven, had walked etc.


I/he/she/it/we/you/they – had been  going, had been driving, had been walking etc.


The verb in past perfect can end in –ed for regular verbs, such as walked, talked, biked etc.  But…

Not for verbs that are irregular, such as: taught, driven, written, seen, gone, shut. For these verbs we use the past participle form of the verb. For more irregular verbs see p. 292.







When do we use this verb form?

To talk about things that happened before this time.


When Sarah arrived at the party, Paul wasn’t there. He had gone home.


When do we use this verb form?

To talk about that something had been happening for a period of time before something else happened.


The sun was shining, but the ground was wet. It had been raining.


To learn more about verb tenses, please watch the following video.