How to use past perfect simple & continuous in English

After looking at the present perfect simple and continuous in the previous lesson, we're going to look at the past perfect in this video lesson and we'll focus on the difference between past perfect simple and continuous...


Hello everyone. In this video we're going to look at the past perfect. We're going to look at how we use the past perfect. We're going to look at how we use the past perfect simple and continuous. I'll give you a few examples together of how we use the past perfect and then at the end we'll do a quick quiz to see how much you can understand.

Firstly, why do we use the past perfect? Why do we need the past perfect? Well remember that with the present perfect we're connecting a point in the past to the present. The past perfect is used to connect two points in the past. Now why is this useful? Because maybe the two things, the two events that happen in the past happen at different times, so we need the past perfect to show that these two events don't happen at the same time, which might change the meaning.

Here's a very simple example. Imagine you're in a restaurant and you're going to pay the bill, but you put your hand in your pocket and you can't find your wallet. When I put my hand in my pocket, I realised I had left my wallet at home. I left my wallet at home first by accident. I forgot to put it in my pocket. And next, a few hours later at the restaurant I realised I didn't have my wallet with me. My wallet was at home. When I put my hand in my pocket, I realised I had left my wallet at home.

Past perfect is also useful if you want to express the amount of time between two events in the past. For example, 'When I first met my wife, I had been single for five years'. Again, both events happened in the past. Meeting the woman that would become my wife and being single for five years. But the past perfect helps to emphasise that amount of time between being single and then later meeting the woman who would later be my wife.

We can also use the past perfect continuous and this helps to express that an event in the past is temporary and ongoing until another action happened in the past to interrupt it. For example, 'When I arrived, my girlfriend had been waiting for over an hour'. This is the reason that she's angry with me. The past perfect continuous here helps to emphasise that fact that she was waiting for me and this is why she's angry. When I arrive, I kept her waiting for a long time. When I arrived, she had been waiting for over an hour. When I arrived, the waiting finally stopped. It was a temporary action interrupted by my arrival.

We can also use the past perfect continuous to emphasise repeated actions in the past. For example, 'I had been working a lot and that's why I was tired'. I was working on many different occasions, many different days over a period of time and the result was I was tired, because I was working too much. I had been working a lot so that's why I was so tired.

So let's take a look at the form of the past perfect. It's 'had' plus the past participle, for example 'I had forgotten my wallet'. The form of the past perfect continuous is 'had' plus 'been' plus the present participle, for example 'I had been working a lot'.

It's also important to talk about how we contract certain words in English. This makes it easier and quicker for us to pronounce certain words. So the auxiliary verb 'had' we contract. So we don't say 'I had been working', we say 'I'd been working'. We don't say 'I had forgotten', we say 'I'd forgotten'.

OK, let's do a quick quiz to see how much you understand. I'm going to give you some examples of sentences using the past perfect and I want you to decide which of the two actions in the past happened first?

Number one. The garden was completely white because it had been snowing.

Number two. I wasn't hungry because I'd been eating all day.

I was sad to sell the house I'd lived in all my life.

Number four. I'd been studying hard all year, so I was sure I would pass my exams.

Number five. I'd had the same car for five years before I decided to buy a new one.

OK, so that's the past perfect, simple and continuous.

If you're still not too sure you can watch the video again, it's always easier the second time. Give the video a like, share it with your friends and subscribe to my YouTube channel and go to where you can find full courses to help you improve every aspect of your English. Keep practising your English and I'll see you soon.