The Past Perfect Continuous Tense
1. What is the past perfect continuous tense?
The past perfect continuous is used for:
- showing how long an event happened before another event
- giving a reason for a past state
2. Past before past
It is important to remember that past perfect continuous sentences have two events:
1. Past Event 1 (past perfect continuous tense)
2. Past Event 2 (past tense)
This means Past Event 1 (past perfect continuous) happens before Past Event 2 (past).
|Past event 1|
(past perfect continuous)
|Past event 2|
|I had been running for 30 minutes||it started to rain||I had been running for 30 minutes when it started to rain.|
|She had been working on the project for three months||the boss stopped it||She had been working on the project for three months before the boss stopped it.|
3. How to make the past perfect continuous tense
To make the past continuous tense, the structure is:
- subject + had + been + verb (ing)
|Subject||Had||Been||Verb (ing)||Example sentence|
|I||had||been||shopping||I had been shopping for an hour when it started to rain.|
|Donald||had||been||cooking||Donald had been cooking all day so he was very tired.|
|Wesley and Cherry||had||been||trying||Wesley and Cherry had been trying to fix the model for an hour when Harper arrived and fixed it in 2 minutes.|
To make past perfect continuous sentences, use:
- subject + past perfect continuous + duration + past event / time
- subject + past perfect continuous + past state
|Subject||Past perfect continuous||Duration||Past event / time||Full sentence|
|He||had been waiting||for an hour||she arrived||He had been waiting for an hour before she arrived.|
|They||had been playing football||for an hour||their mother called them in to dinner||They had been playing football for an hour when their mother called them in to dinner.|
|Subject||Past perfect continuous||Past state||Full sentence|
|They||had been playing football||they were tired||They had been playing football for an hour so they were tired.|
|He||had been waiting||he was angry||He was angry because he had been waiting for for her to arrive.|
4. Clause positions
The past event / time and past state can be moved to the start of the sentence.
|Past perfect continuous first||Past perfect continuous|
|We had been watching them all afternoon before they spotted us.||They spotted us only after we had been watching them all afternoon.|
|Wild cats had been living undisturbed in these woods for a thousand years before hunters arrived.||Before hunters arrived, wild cats had been living undisturbed in these woods for a thousand years.|
5. Past perfect continuous vs. past continuous
When discussing a past happening over some time before a second past event, the past continuous (was …ing) is more common than the past perfect continuous (had been …ing).
However, if saying how long an action happened, people use the past perfect continuous.
|Past perfect||Past perfect continuous|
|They were living in America when they learnt English.||They had been living in America for 2 years before they learnt English.|
|It was raining when she turned up.||It had been raining for an hour by the time she turned up.|
6. Important notes: stative verbs
Stative verbs are verbs that tell a true state.
They include know, have, own, and like.
Stative verbs do not generally take the continuous tense.
Therefore they do not generally take the past perfect continuous tense (had been …ing). Instead, they generally use the past perfect (had + p.p.).
|I had known him for 3 years before we got married||I had been knowing him for 3 years before we got married.|
|I had had long hair for 2 years before I got it cut.||I had been having long hair for 2 years before I got it cut.|
1. Complete these sentences using the past perfect continuous tense:
(i) Jerry … for 6 months before he moved to Turkey.
(ii) The Prime Minister … before she was forced to resign.
(iii) The team … but lost to a last minute penalty.
2. Answer these questions using the past perfect continuous:
(i) How long have you been learning English?
(ii) How long have you been living in your current house?
(iii) How long have you been using your computer?