Past Perfect Continuous Tense in English Grammar

Past Perfect Continuous Tense in English Grammar

This tense is an advanced tense, but it’s not hard to learn. This tense will allow you to talk about things that happened in the past in a more interesting way.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense in English Grammar

Past Perfect Continuous

Both the past perfect simple and the past perfect continuous (also called the past perfect progressive) can be used to talk about past actions or states. Their difference is that the past perfect simple normally focuses on the result of the activity, and the past perfect continuous normally focuses on the process of the activity and it expresses longer actions in the past before another action in the past. Let's compare these examples:

I’d waited an hour for him .

Past perfect simple emphasizes the completion of the activity.

I’d been waiting an hour for him .

Past perfect continuous focuses on the duration of the activity.

Past Perfect Continuous: Structure

The past perfect continuous is comprised of the past simple of the auxiliary verb 'have' (i.e. had), the past participle form of the auxiliary verb 'be' (i.e. been) and the present participle form of the main verb.

Subject past form of have past participle of be present participle of verb
All subjects had been verb+ing

When we use the past perfect continuous tense in speaking, we often contract the subject and the first auxiliary verb.

I had been working . → I'd been working .

He had been playing football . → He'd been playing football .

Past Perfect Continuous: Negation

For negative sentences you put 'not' after the first auxiliary verb (i.e. had).

He had been working well . → He had not been working well .

I had been waiting for her . → I had not been waiting for her .

In negative sentences, we can contract the auxiliary verb 'had' and 'not'. See the examples:

He had not been working well . → He hadn't been working well .

I had not been waiting for her . →I hadn't been waiting for her .

Past Perfect Continuous: Questions

For yes/no question sentences, we exchange the subject and 'had'. Look at these example sentences with the past perfect continuous tense:

She had been working . → Had she been working ?

They had been waiting long . → Had they been waiting long ?

For wh- question sentences, do the exact thing you do for yes/no questions and add the proper wh- question word at the beginning of the sentence and omit the part that is the answer.

He had been working in London . → Where had he been working ?

She had been reading 'Gone with the Wind' . → What had she been reading ?

Present Participle: Spelling Rules

We make the Present Participle by adding -ing to the verb. Normally we just add -ing. But sometimes we have to change the word a little. Here are the rules to help you know how to spell the Present Participle:

  • If the verb ends in consonant + stressed vowel + consonant, double the last letter.

stop → stopping

run → running

  • If the verb ends in consonant + unstressed vowel + consonant, (the base verb is not stressed) do not double the last letter.

open → opening

  • If the verb ends in 'ie', change the 'ie' to 'y'.

lie → lying

die → dying

  • If the verb ends in vowel + consonant + 'e', omit the 'e'.

come → coming

mistake → mistaking

Past Perfect Continuous: Uses

When someone uses the present continuous, they are talking about:

Still-ongoing Past Actions

  1. We use the past perfect continuous tense to talk about longer actions in the past before another action in the past.

Sam was very tired . He had been running .

He had been trying to open the door for ten minutes when he found the keys .

  • We use the past perfect continuous tense for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past.

She didn't want to shop . She had been spending all her money .

Everything was white . It had been snowing for hours .

a Repeated Action Continued in the Past

  • We use the past perfect continuous tense to talk about something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point.

She was a professional writer . She had been writing novels ever since she was in college .

For and Since

We use 'since' with a fixed point in time in the past (2004, April 23rd, last year). The fixed time can be another action, which is in the past simple (since I was at school, since I arrived). We use 'for' with a period of time (2 hours, three years, six months).

We were sad when the factory closed . We had been working there for ten years .

I had been watching the TV show every night since it started .

Reported Speech

  • We use the past perfect continuous tense in reported speech.

Melanie said , " I have been studying all night ." = Melanie said she had been studying all night .

She said , " I was watching TV that night ." = She said she had been watching TV that night .

When Not to Use Past Perfect Continuous Tense

We do not normally use the continuous with stative verbs (also called non-continuous verbs). These verbs are normally used in the simple form because they refer to states, rather than actions or progresses. Use the simple present perfect with verbs such as 'know, hate, hear, understand, want'.

Up until that moment , I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in true love .

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