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Past Perfect Continuous

The Past Perfect Continuous is another tense that expresses the "past in the past".

In this lesson we look at the structure and use of the Past Perfect Continuous tense, followed by a quiz to check your understanding.

Note that continuous tenses are also called progressive tenses. So the Past Perfect Continuous tense is sometimes called the Past Perfect Progressive tense.

How do we make the Past Perfect Continuous tense?

The structure of the Past Perfect Continuous tense is:

subject + auxiliary have + auxiliary be + main verb
conjugated in Past Simple past participle  
had been present participle

The first auxiliary verb (have) is conjugated in the Past Simple, invariable: had

The second auxiliary verb (be) is invariable in past participle form: been

The main verb is invariable in present participle form: -ing

For negative sentences we insert not after the first auxiliary verb.

For question sentences, we exchange the subject and the first auxiliary verb.

Look at these example sentences with the Past Perfect Continuous tense:

  subject auxiliary verb   auxiliary verb main verb  
+ I had   been working.  
+ You had   been playing tennis.
- It had not been working well.
- We had not been expecting her.
? Had you   been drinking?  
? Had they   been waiting long?

Contraction with Past Perfect Continuous

When we use the Past Perfect Continuous in speaking, we often contract the subject and the first auxiliary verb. We also sometimes do this in informal writing.

I had been I'd been
you had been you'd been
he had been
she had been
it had been
he'd been
she'd been
it'd been
we had been we'd been
they had been they'd been

In negative sentences, we may contract the first auxiliary verb and "not":

How do we use the Past Perfect Continuous tense?

The Past Perfect Continuous tense is like the Past Perfect tense, but it expresses longer actions in the past before another action in the past. For example:

past present future
Ram starts waiting in past at 9am.    
 
 
9 11  
I arrive in past at 11am.    
Ram had been waiting for two hours when I arrived.

Here are some more examples:

You can sometimes think of the Past Perfect Continuous tense like the Present Perfect Continuous tense, but instead of the time being now the time is before.

  have
been
doing
   
had
been
doing
     
  past present future

For example, imagine that you meet Ram at 11am. Ram says to you:

Later, you tell your friends: