The past perfect continuous is probably the most difficult version of the passive voice. Fortunately, it is very very rarely used.
It is most often used when telling stories about what happened, especially stories about long historical events.


1. Review: the past perfect continuous tense

The past perfect continuous tense is used for:

1. showing how long an event happened before another event
2. giving a reason for a past state

It requires two past events. A first past event, and then a second past event that happened before the first event.
However, the second event is only used as the starting point to measure ‘how long’, or a cause.

To make the past continuous tense:
had been …ing

To make a past continuous sentence:
1. had been …ing (+ duration) + past event
2. had been …ing (+ duration) + past state

*Duration is not always needed. However, it is very common.


The class had been waiting for 25 minutes before the professor arrived. The students were not happy.By the end of 1942, the war had been going on for three years and didn’t look likely to stop.
By the end of last year, the company had been selling books for ten years.On October 22nd, when the SEC announced it would be investigating Enron’s accounts, the share price had already been falling for several months.
When the summer came at the end of his first year of university, Mel had been dating Kim for 3 months.By 1895, Queen Victoria had been sitting on the English throne for 58 years and the British Empire still dominated the world. That was soon to change.
Henrietta was tired because she had been running.By the end of the financial year the staff had lost patience with the company because they had been working so much overtime.


2. Turning the past perfect continuous into its passive voice

The passive voice changes ‘x does something to y’ to ‘y has something done to it by x’.

To turn the past perfect continuous into its passive voice:
1. swap the subject and object
2. change ‘had been …ing’ to ‘had been being + p.p.’

*Perfect participle (p.p.) = gone, done, seen, eaten etc.


3. Examples of the passive voice (past perfect continuous tense)

The dog had just been being walked when I first saw it.Voters had been being told all sorts of things in the months before the election. When the day came to choose, they didn’t know what was real.
The street vendor had been being ignored all day when suddenly a tour group stopped and bought all her fruit.Food had been being left out for Father Christmas each year before they moved house. Now, however, this stopped.
Money had been being printed by several different banks before the government established the national bank.Australia’s desert had been being lived in for thousands of years before western explorers arrived.
All sorts of toys had been being made in the factory before it started to manufacture Tickle Me Elmos.Crocodiles had been being taken to the nature reserve for twenty years, but now it was receiving hippos and zebras too.
By the end of the war, some islands in the Pacific had been being fought over for more than ten years.The forest had been being cut down for over 30 years before the new law gave it some protection.


4. Passive voice (past perfect progressive tense) as part of longer stories

It is unusual for just one past perfect progressive sentence in the passive voice to be used. Usually it is part of a longer story.

The war between the two countries was devastating, leaving thousands of people dead and tens of thousands without homes. Now, however, a peace deal offered hope. The city of Townsville was one example of an area in which lives which had been ruined saw changes for the better. Townsville’s streets and houses had been being fought over and bombed for five straight years. People who could leave had already gone. But with peace, people began to return. Businesses began to open. The city began to recover.


5. Avoiding the passive voice (past progressive continuous tense)

One of the reasons people don’t often use the past progressive continuous (passive) tense is that other tenses do the job better.

If you want to say something was true, use the past perfect (passive).
If you want to emphasise the action (…ing), don’t use a passive voice.


Past perfect continuous (passive)Past perfect (passive)Past perfect continuous (active)
Five star dishes had been being made at the restaurant for 20 years before it closed.Five star dishes had been made at the restaurant for 20 years before it closed.Chefs had been making five star dishes at the restaurant for 20 years before it closed.
The crowd had been being rained on for an hour before anyone came on stage.The crowd had been rained on for an hour before anyone came on stage.Rain had been falling on the crowd for an hour before anyone came on stage.
When the Mayflower arrived in America, the seas had already been being crossed for hundreds of years.When the Mayflower arrived in America, the seas had already been crossed for hundreds of years.When the Mayflower arrived in America, ships had already been crossing the sea for hundreds of years.


6. Exam

Click here to try the exam for this grammar point.