Past Continuous vs. Past Perfect Continuous

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

What is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between past continuous and past perfect continuous is that past continuous tense refers to ongoing action in the past, while past perfect continuous talks about actions in the past that occurred before another action.

Uses and Comparison

1. Past Actions

While both tenses tend to talk about past actions, there is a tiny detail you need to consider. When we want to talk about ongoing action in the past, we use past continuous tense. Now to talk about longer actions in the past before another action in the past we use past perfect continuous.

I was working at the office.

Here, we are talking about an action that was in process in the past.

I had been working in the office when 9/11 happened.

Here, we are referring to an action that happened in the past while another took place.

2. Frequent Actions

When we want to talk about something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point, we use past perfect continuous. When we want to talk about an action that happened frequently in the past, we use past continuous with adverbs or adverb phrases to indicate the repetition of actions.

I was staying overtime everyday for months.

Here, we are referring to a past action that used to be a routine.

I had been staying overtime everyday since April.

Here, we are indicating the duration of an ongoing action in the past.

3. Narration

When we want to narrate a past action or tell a story in the past tense, we tend to start with past continuous to give a general background.

The Redhood was going to her grandmother when the wolf saw her.

Here, we are giving a background knowledge before moving on with the story.

The Redhood had been going to her grandmother when the wolf saw her.

Here, we do not have a typical story telling pattern.

4. Reported Speech

When we want to report someone's speech, we use reported speech. We use the past perfect continuous instead of the present perfect continuous.

Harry said, "I have been reading all day." = Harry said he had been reading all day.

Here, we have a reported speech in which present perfect continuous tense has been replaced by past perfect continuous tense.

They said, "We were helping the others." = They said they had been helping the others.

Here, we have a reported speech in which past continuous tense has been replaced by past perfect continuous.

Structure

Now that we have talked about uses and compared the two tenses, we will talk about structure:

1. Past Continuous

When we want to create past continuous tense, we following pattern:

subject + to be (past) + gerund + complement or objects

We use the past tense of the verb 'be' and the -ing form of a verb to create this tense. Look at the table below:

Subject Past tense of be -ing Form
I/He/She/It was talking
We/You/They were sleeping

2. Past Perfect Continuous Tense

In order to create past perfect continuous, we use the past simple of 'have,' the past participle form of 'be,' followed by the present participle form of the main verb. Look at the following pattern for better understanding: subject + had + been + verb + -ing
Now, pay attention to the table below:

Past Form of Have Past Participle of be Present Participle of the verb
had been calling

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