I am aware that people use the Past Simple tense when they speak about a finished time (last year, last month, or in 1805, for example).

I also understand that, when the sentence uses the Present Perfect tense, I cannot use those words; I should use phrases like today, this week, or this month.

Can I use the Past Perfect tense with those phrases, as in the following sentences?

Have you been to New York?
Yes, I had been there last year.

Please note that I am not referring to by last year or until last year.

  • 2
    Your sentence in B is grammatical. But it should not be used as an answer to the question in A.
    – Jim
    Jun 1, 2019 at 18:32
  • This question was cross-posted on EL&U 2 hours later. We are currently discussing the efficacy of such actions at english.SE.meta Jun 1, 2019 at 21:17
  • @laugh The problem is that there is present perfect and past perfect. Anyway, I think this is past perfect question is one I have answered the most here on ELL. I bet some of my answers are basically duplicates.
    – Lambie
    Feb 12, 2020 at 23:50

2 Answers 2


Please note:

the only justification for past perfect is another event or action in the simple past, in fact or implied.

Therefore: The usual utterances go something like this.

A: Have you been to New York?

B: Yes, I have.

A: Oh? When did you go there?

B: I went there last year.

A: Was that before or after your accident?

B: It was before, but I had been planning on going before that.

Notice: had been planning comes before the accident. The accident occurred and before that speaker B had been planning the trip to NY.

This rule is easy when you get used to it. Sometimes, it can be tricky figuring out the implied simple past event.

Other examples of questions I have answered with the past perfect.

past perfect

past perfect


Past Perfect: "When we talk about something that happened in the past we sometimes want to refer back to something that happened before that time."

It's like a double past tense.

Therefore, you might say "I had been there the previous year."

"Previous" is before the events of a story, which is set in the past.

Considering your example:

I had been there last year.

The problem is "last year" takes it's reference point from the present. It's the previous year in terms of the current year.

However, it ought to be in terms of a past year. In this way, it seems like a mistake.

However, it doesn't mean the sentence "I had been there last year" is completely grammatically impossible.

It is using a jumble of time specifications. For example, one moment the Past Perfect, then switching to the Simple Past or the historical/dramatic/narrative present.

This may be useful in certain contexts.

For example, a whole narrative set in the past:

She lived in Paris. I had been there last year but failed to visit her.

  • The problem is "last year" takes it's reference point from the present. It's the previous year in terms of the current year. But if the whole narrative was set in the past and the reference point as well—would it not be acceptable to use "last" in that case? She lived in Paris. I had been there last year but failed to visit her. Jun 1, 2019 at 20:09
  • @MvLog , I think you are right. Updated the answer.
    – Sam
    Jun 1, 2019 at 20:32
  • Thank you very much for your answer. But I still don't see how "the previous year" does not take the reference point from the present unlike "last year". Wouldn't "the previous year" be interpreted differently depending on the current year? For example, if you say "the previous year" today, it would mean 2018. However, if you say it in 2020, it would mean 2019. In this respect, I don't get how "the previous year" is any different from "last year". Could you please explain further?
    – user96410
    Jun 2, 2019 at 13:42
  • How about if person A asked, "Had you been to New York before you started working"? Could person B answer, "Yes, I had been there last year"?
    – user96410
    Jun 2, 2019 at 14:39
  • @babananana when the reference point is the present moment of the speaker, they would say "last year". When the reference point is another time (not the present moment of the speaker), then "previous" sounds more technically accurate. If you do choose the word "last", then you are moving to the narrative tense. In that tense, you are speaking as if your time frame had shifted back to the past. So, they are both options.
    – Sam
    Jun 2, 2019 at 15:18

You must log in to answer this question.