Tenses

Past Perfect Continuous

The Past Perfect Continuous (Progressive) is used to talk about actions or situations that were in progress before some other actions or situations. There are also other uses.

Subject + HAD + BEEN + Verb (continuous form)
  • The boys had been quarreling for half an hour when we arrived home.
  • I had been dating Angelina for 3 years before we got married.
  • If it hadn't been raining, we would have gone to the park.
  • She told me that she had been working as a teacher for over 40 years.

Use

  1. Duration of a past action up to a certain point in the past
  2. Showing cause of an action or situation
  3. Third conditional sentences
  4. Reported speech

Use 1: Duration of a Past Action

The main use of the Past Perfect Continuous is to express actions or situations that were in progress before some other actions or situations:

  • Josh had been studying Spanish for 2 years before he went to Spain.
  • I had been practicing playing the guitar for 5 years before I decided to make a record.
  • We had been flying for 12 hours before we got to Kuala Lumpur.

Use 2: Showing Cause

Use this tense to show cause of an action or situation in the past:

  • John was in a detention because he had been misbehaving.
  • The road was wet because it had been raining.
  • I had to go on a diet because I had been eating too much sugar.
  • Jessica got sunburnt because she had been lying in the sun too long.

Use 3: Third Conditional

Remember that this tense is also used in third conditional sentences:

  • If it hadn't been raining, we would have gone to the park.
  • If the passengers had been wearing the seat belts, he would perhaps have survived the accident.
  • If I hadn't been working all day, I would have gone swimming

Use 4: Reported Speech

This tense also appears in reported speech:

  • She said she knew Charlie had been lying to her.
  • He told me he had been expecting a guest.
  • They complained that they had been waiting for our visit for weeks.
The Past Perfect Continuous, in contrast to the Present Perfect Continuous, never expresses actions that continue up until now:
  • He has been playing for two hours. (He is still playing or he has just stopped.)
  • He had been playing for two hours when I arrived. (He is not playing football now.)

Form

Declarative Sentences

Subject

+

HAD

+

BEEN

+

Verb (continuous form)

e.g. he, she, a dog, etc.

e.g. walking, going, taking, etc.

 Father: When I looked at our daughter Kathy I knew she had been crying.
(Use 1: Duration of a past action)

 

Examples

Use (click to read)

I had been running for an hour before I twisted my ankle.

1

It was wet outside: It had been raining.

2

If I had known it, I wouldn't have bought it.

3

Mary said she had never been swimming so much in one day.

4

He said he had been training. (Use 4: Reported speech) 

Questions

HAD

+

Subject

+

BEEN

+

Verb (continuous form)

e.g. he, she, a dog, etc.

e.g. walking, going, taking, etc.

 

Examples

Use (click to read)

For how many hours had Fred been painting the house when the ladder fell?

1

How long had the player been playing before he scored?

1

Negative Sentences

Subject

+

HAD NOT

+

BEEN

+

Verb (continuous form)

e.g. he, she, a dog, etc.

e.g. walking, going, taking, etc.

  Examples Use (click to read)

Mary hadn't been waiting for longer than 10 minutes.

1

He said he wasn't tired because he hadn't been working that day.

3

If it hadn't been raining, we would have played football.

3

If I hadn't been studying all night, I would have problems with this test now.

4

Check your understanding!