Present Perfect Continuous vs. Past Perfect Continuous

There are similarities and differences between present perfect continuous and past perfect continuous, which might cause confusion. To learn more, click here!

What is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between the present perfect continuous tense and past perfect continuous is quite obvious. Present perfect continuous tense refers to the present time and past perfect continuous refers to the past time.

Uses and Comparison

1. Sequence of Actions

The past perfect continuous tense tends to talk about actions or events that took place for a period of time before another action or event.

We had been walking to the station when they called to cancel.

Here, the speaker talks about an action before an event.

We have been walking to the station when they called to cancel.

This sentence does not explain a prior action.

John had been taking a new route before he noticed he is lost.

Here, the speaker refers to an action that occurs before another action.

John had been taking a new route before he noticed he is lost.

This sentence does not refer to any action that might have happened before.

2. On-going Actions

Present perfect continuous tends to talk about long term actions and events that started in the past but they are still on-going until now.

I have been living here for 3 years.

Here, the speaker is referring to an on-going action that has begun 3 years ago.

I had been living here for 3 years.

This sentence does not express on-going action.

Ed has been looking for his phone all day.

Here, the speaker talks about an on-going event which is lasting around a day.

Ed had been looking for his phone all day.

This sentence does not express on-going action.

3. Duration of Actions

We can use the past perfect continuous tense to express the duration in which an action or event has occurred in the past that comes before another action or event. Meanwhile, We can use present perfect continuous to refer to actions that have been done and the result has surfaced.

I needed a vacation since I had been working nonstop the past couple of weeks.

Here, the tense helps us understand the duration of action.

I needed a vacation since I have been working nonstop the past couple of weeks.

This sentence does not show the duration of the act.

She is late because she has been watching tv shows all night.

Here, the speaker reveals the reason of a result.

She is late because she had been watching tv shows all night.

This sentence does not show results.

4. Talking about Causes

Past perfect continuous also expresses causes for something that has occurred in the past.

I'm not happy because I had been through a hard week.

Here, the speaker reveals the reason to something.

I'm not happy because I had been through a hard week.

This sentence does not show the causes.

She looks so exhausted because she had been studying all night.

Here, the speaker talks about the reason of a previous action.

She looks so exhausted because she had been studying all night.

This sentence does not show the causes.

5. Temporary Situations

Temporary situations can also be expressed by present perfect continuous. By temporary situations, we mean situations that will not last long term.

Have you been swimming?

Here, we are referring to actions that are temporary and probably end soon.

Had you been swimming?

Here, it seems like we are referring to the a past event therefore it is incorrect.

Has he been studying?

Here, we talk about a certain action being done but it will probably last for a short time.

Had he been studying?

Here, we talk about the past and therefore it is incorrect.

Structures

1. Past Perfect Continuous

The process of creating past perfect continuous is easy. All you have to do is follow a certain pattern: subject + had + been + verb + -ing. As you can see, we start with any subject, then add the past simple of the auxiliary verb 'to have,' followed the past participle form of the auxiliary verb 'to be,' and finally the present participle form of the main verb. Have a look:

I had been running.

We had been arguing.

2. Present Perfect Continuous

This tense is created by the present perfect of the verb 'to be,' and the present participle of the main verb. You can use this pattern for better understanding: subject + have/has + been + verb + -ing.

I have been looking for him.

She has been minding her own business.

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