"Past Perfect Continuous" Tense in English Grammar

Past Perfect Continuous

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

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 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 all subjects
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:

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). Check out the following examples for more clarification.

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, we put had at the beginning of the sentence. 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, 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 in London. → Where had he been working?

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


If you want to learn more about spelling rules of adding -ing to the base form of verbs, see here.

Past Perfect Continuous: Uses

Using Past Perfect Continuous to Talk about an Action That Started in the Past and Continued up until Another Time in the Past

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

Still-ongoing Past Actions

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 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. Remember, the action was in progress up to a specific point in time. Check out the examples.

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. 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 had been writing novels ever since she was in college.

Here 'ever since' means 'since.'

For and Since

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 had been working there for ten years.

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

Reported Speech

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 had been studying all night.

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

When Not to Use Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Stative Verbs

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 progress. Use the simple present perfect with verbs such as 'know, hate, hear, understand, want.'

The baby had not heard (Not been hearing) anything before using hearing aid.

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

Passive Voice

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 had been taking to the Stable.")

The seed had been put into the soil. (Not "The seed had been putting into the soil.")


Past perfect continuous refers to an action in the past in situations like:

  1. Referring to an action which started in the past and continued progressively to a point of time in past.
  2. Referring to a past action taking place before another past action
  3. Referring to a repeated action continued in the past
  4. Referring to a reported speech

Structure, Contraction, Affirmative, Negative, and Question Forms

Structure subject + had + been + v + -ing
Affirmative He had been driving all night.
Negative He had not been driving all night.
Contraction He'd been driving all night. / He hadn't been driving all night.
Yes / no question Had he been driving all night?
-Wh question What had he been doing all night?


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