Past Perfect

  • Last week our teacher gave back the essays we had written the week before.
  • The house was quiet when Andrew got home. Everyone had gone to bed several hours earlier.
  • Annie didn't want to come to the movie with us because she had seen it the week before.

Present Perfect

  • We have written the essays the week before.
  • The house is quiet. Everyone has gone to bed several hours earlier.
  • Annie has seen this movie the week before.

In these sentences, I am confused by phrases referring to a time in the past, which are highlighted in bold. I doubt that they can be used in Perfect tenses.

2 Answers 2


The past perfect sentences are correct. The present perfect sentences are all wrong because we cannot give a finished past time with present perfect.

The time expressions "the week before" and "several hours earlier" refer to finished past times.

So yes, you're right to doubt them.

  • I still can't understand why we can use expressions like "the week before" and "several hours earlier" in the Past Perfect but not in the Present Perfect - I always thought that the Past Perfect is the Present Perfect happened in the past - the narrator refers to it as his past experience (at that moment in the past it could be said in the Present Perfect form and the rules should be the same). So I was wrong?
    – Serg
    Nov 25, 2022 at 17:11
  • For example, I thought that if we can't use expressions like "yesterday" or "last year" in the Present Perfect, we can't use them in the Past Perfect and Future Perfect either. Now, I'm not sure.
    – Serg
    Nov 25, 2022 at 17:28
  • @Serg The past perfect has several functions. The main one is "the past of the past". In that function, it makes sense to use time expressions of a finished past time. It also has the function of the backshifted form of present perfect (among other tenses). In that function, it would be incorrect to use "yesterday" or "the day before".
    – gotube
    Nov 25, 2022 at 18:09
  • Could you recommend a book or article that explains these aspects well? In regular grammar textbooks, they usually don't address these differences. I would like to use these tenses relying on logic, not rules, so I would like to understand what kind of logic a native speaker uses, not just a set of rules and expression markers.
    – Serg
    Nov 25, 2022 at 19:20
  • @Serg I always recommend the "Grammar in Use" series of books for self-study. But you should know that native speakers almost never think about rules or logic at all. We just "know", same as you do in your native language. I happen to be able to give that technical rule-based answer because I studied linguistics in university and have been teaching ESL since 2004, not at all because I'm a native speaker.
    – gotube
    Nov 25, 2022 at 20:49

The Past Perfect ones are all fine (except that you mean earlier).

However, we only use before and earlier with reference to a past time (they had gone to bed earlier than the time Andrew got home). With the Present Perfect, you need to say last week and several hours ago.

  • Are you saying this sentence, "We have written the essays last week" is good grammar?
    – gotube
    Nov 25, 2022 at 16:51
  • Well, obviously We wrote the essays last week would be more idiomatic. Nov 26, 2022 at 9:12
  • Obviously indeed. But I'm just asking about "We have written the essays last week". I think your answer says it's grammatical to use finished past time expressions with present perfect, but I consider that ungrammatical, full stop. I want to be sure that's what you intend to say and you're confident about it.
    – gotube
    Nov 27, 2022 at 0:53
  • No, I just chose not to complicate the issue by mentioning the tense as well. Nov 27, 2022 at 8:28

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