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Past Perfect Continuous Tense



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We use the past perfect continuous tense to express an action that started before a time in the past and continued up to that time.

Formation of Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The past perfect continuous tense is made using had been and continuous or -ing form of the main verb. The auxiliary verb had in the past perfect tense is used with all subjects. It is contracted with different subjects in the following way.

I had-I’d
We had-we’d
He had- he’d
She had-she’d
You had-you’d
It had-it’d
They had-they’d

Structure of the Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Positive Sentences

Structure: Subject + had + been + verb-ing + Object + since/for….

Examples
  • When I came to the store in 2007, Mr. Mohsin had already been working there for seven years.
  • He had been suffering from a virus when he was in London.
  • I had been playing piano for hours.
  • We had been planning to move to the new house for two months.
  • She was too tired that day because she had been cleaning home all day.
  • When we arrived at the petrol pump, many people there had been waiting for nearly two hours.
  • She had been feeling ill, so she went home.
  • I felt sick and tired. I had been cooking all evening.
  • At that time, she had been searching for her child for two hours.

Negative Sentences

The negative of the past perfect continuous tense is made by inserting the word not after had. The contracted form of had and not is hadn’t.

Structure: Subject + had + not + been + verb-ing + Object + since/for……

Examples
  • He had not been shaving for many days.
  • It had not been raining for two months.
  • His eyes were red. I think he had not been sleeping for a long time. 
  • She had not been studying in London for a long time.
  • My brother went to buy a new laptop because his old one had not been working for ten days.

Interrogative Sentences

To make the past perfect continuous tense sentences, interrogative inverts the subject, and the verb had.

Structure: Had + Subject + been + verb-ing + Object + since/for……..

Examples
  • Had she been studying grammar for two hours?
  • Where had the students been protesting?
  • What had Ahmad been doing before his mother got home?
  • Why had people outside the bank been standing before let them in?

Note: Interrogative sentences that ask who did what did something do not follow the typical question pattern mentioned above.


Uses of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

1. We use the past perfect continuous tense to describe actions that were happening until something in the past. But if the verb is stative, then we use past perfect + length of time.

Example

  • He had played the video game for one hour before lunch. (Past Perfect)
  • He had been playing the video game for one hour before lunch. ((Past Perfect Continuous)

 (Both sentences mean the same thing.)

2. To talk about the continuity or duration of a situation, we use the past perfect continuous.

3. Some verbs that express states are not used with continuous tenses.

The Difference Between Past Perfect & Past Perfect Continuous

In many cases, both past perfect continuous and past perfect with the length of time is correct to use.

Example

Past Perfect: They had played cricket for two hours when it was started to rain.
Past Perfect Continuous: They had been playing cricket for two hours when it was started to rain.

But sometimes, only one tense should be used because there are some verbs which we cannot use in continuous form. For such reason, we only used past perfect + length of time to express that action.

I had hated him for many years. (the verb that cannot be used in continuous form)
I had known him for two years.

Some actions expressed by the past perfect continuous tense can also be described in several other ways. For example
He had been waiting when we got there.
He had waited for almost two hours when we reached there.
He was waiting before we reached there.
He waited for almost two hours before we reached there.

The first sentence is the past perfect continuous, which shows that the action wait was continuing until we reached there.

The remaining three sentences are in the past perfect, past continuous, and in the simple past tense, respectively expressing the same idea.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Examples Sentences 

  • How long had you been learning English?
  • We had been trying to reach her on the phone yesterday.
  • When we reached the school, the paper had been going on for one hour.
  • We went to the hospital for a checkup after my son had been feeling unwell for six days.
  • He had been practicing to be a footballer until his leg was broken.
  • I was thirsty. I had been riding for several hours.
  • My grandfather had been working as a teacher for more than half his life when he retired.
  • They had been training together for a long time.
  • The cat had been sitting on the chair all along.
  • I noticed that she had been searching outside.
  • Where had the students been hiding the book?
  • Where had your friends been planning to go on holiday this summer?
  • I had been living in that city for a very short period.
  • The people had been protesting for two months.
  • It had been blowing since 8 am.
  • She had been putting me off for five hours.
  • The government had been introducing reforms in the education department for many years.
  • It had not been hailing since yesterday.
  • We had been standing at the school gate for twenty minutes.
  • Had the man been ringing the bell since morning?

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