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Past perfect and past perfect progressive

The past perfect tense diagram

The past perfect is used to refer to an event or situation which took place before another past event.


  • Although she had considered post-graduate study, at the end of the year she decided to look for a job.

    Grammar timeline 1
  • By the time he arrived, the lecture had already started.

    Grammar timeline 1

The order of information in the sentence may be reversed.


The lecture had already started by the time he arrived.

Note: The past perfect is usually used in conjunction with a past simple verb. Both describe past actions or situations, but one event occurred earlier than the other.

Sample Sentences

  1. By the time he began writing the report, he had completed most of his experiments.
  2. Before the new equipment was installed, lab work had been very slow.

Here is a timeline for Sentence 1

earlier past more recent past
| _ |
completed most


(event 1)
began writing

(event 2)

Click to select the event (subject plus verb) which occurred first in the following sentences.

  1. Several senior engineers had left the company by the time the new CEO arrived.
  2. It was announced yesterday that funding had been withdrawn from the project.
  3. Until the new database was developed, the staff had struggled to keep student records up to date.

Fill in the blanks with the correct past and past perfect verb forms.

  1. When he (arrive), the meeting (start).
  2. She (tell) me that she (find) a job.
  3. Yesterday she (report) that a number of errors (be identified) in the analysis of results.

Past perfect progressive

The past perfect tense also has a progressive form. This is used to refer to situations where the earlier event was an ongoing action which had been ongoing for a period of time before the simple past event.


  • Although the students had been working on the project for six weeks, their report was not ready by the due date.
  • Before the hydrogen project began, the engineers had been working on hybrid technology.
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