What Is Past Perfect Continuous Tense?
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 completion of an action before another action in the past, while the past perfect continuous normally focuses on the duration of an ongoing activity before another action in the past. Let's compare these examples:
The past perfect simple emphasizes the completion of the activity.
The past perfect continuous focuses on the duration of the activity.
Past Perfect Continuous: Structure
|Past form of Have||had|
|Past Participle of Be||been|
|Present Participle of Verb||verb + ing|
When we use the past perfect continuous tense in speaking, we often contract the subject and the first auxiliary verb. For example:
Past Perfect Continuous: Negation
For negative sentences you put 'not' after the first auxiliary verb (i.e. had). Check out the following examples for more clarification.
He had been working well. → He had
I had been waiting for her. → I had
In negative sentences, we can contract the auxiliary verb 'had' and 'not.' See the examples:
Past Perfect Continuous: Questions
For yes/no question, we put had at the beginning of the sentence. Look at these example sentences with the past perfect continuous tense:
For wh- question, 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. See the examples.
He had been working
She had been reading '
If you want to learn more about spelling rules for adding -ing to the base form of verbs, see here.
Past Perfect Continuous: Uses
When someone uses the past perfect continuous, they are talking about:
- An ongoing action that started in the past, and continued up until another time or action in the past
An ongoing action that started in the past, and continued up until another time or action in the past
We use the 'past perfect continuous' tense to talk about longer actions in the past before another action in the past. This means the longer action has happened sooner than the shorter action. For example:
Sam was very tired. He
We use the 'past perfect continuous tense' for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past. Remember, the action was in progress up to a specific point in time. Check out the examples.
She didn't want to shop. She
Everything was white. It
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. Remember, you do not mention the times you do the actions, even in situations that you do something repeatedly. Because in past perfect continuous tense the focus is on the duration of the action not the result. For example:
She was a professional writer. She
Here 'ever since' means 'since.'
Common Time Expressions
We use 'since' with a fixed point in time in the past (since 2004, since April 23rd, since last year, since I was at school, since I arrived). We use 'for' with a period of time (for 2 hours, for three years, for six months). These are the examples.
We were sad when the factory closed. We
As you know, while reporting someone's speech, you have to use reported speech. The structure of reported speech requires a tense which happens sooner than the main tense. For example, if there is a simple present tense, the tense of its reported speech has to be in past simple tense. As a result, you can use the 'past perfect continuous' tense instead of the present perfect continuous tense in reported speech. For example:
Melanie said, "I have been studying all night." = Melanie said that she
She said, "I was watching TV that night." = She said that she
When Not to Use Past Perfect Continuous Tense
We do not normally use the continuous with stative verbs (also known as non-continuous verbs). These verbs are normally used in the simple form because they refer to states, rather than actions or progress. Use the simple present perfect with verbs such as 'know', 'hate', 'hear', 'understand' and 'want.'
been hearing) anything before using hearing aid.
Up until that moment, I
been believing) in true love.
We usually do not use the 'past perfect continuous' tense in passive voice, this tense tends to be used in active voice. You can use the 'past perfect simple' tense in the passive form if you want to. Here are some examples.
The cow had been taken to the Stable. (Not "The cow
to the Stable.")
The seed had been put into the soil. (Not "The seed
into the soil.")
Past perfect continuous refers to an action in the past in situations like:
- Referring to an action which started in the past and continued progressively to a point of time in past.
- Referring to a past action taking place before another past action
- Referring to a repeated action continued in the past
- Referring to a reported speech
Structure, Contraction, Affirmative, Negative, and Question Forms
|Structure||subject + had + been + v + -ing|
|Yes / no question||
- What Is Past Perfect Continuous Tense?
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