Use of the past perfect continuous

(Explanation of the progressive form of the past perfect tense)

Table of contents – past perfect progressive

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of the past perfect continuous
  2. Formation rule
  3. Further explanations and exercises

When is the past perfect continuous used?

In principle, the past perfect continuous describes actions that happened before certain events in the past. This tense strongly emphasizes the process of the action and not just the fact that it occurred (as the past perfect simple does). It is necessary in the following cases:

  • An action started before and continued up to a fixed time in the past:
    • “We had been waiting for take off for 2 hours when the flight was cancelled.”
    • “Oliver had already been working there for 7 years when I started at that company.”
  • The past perfect continuous can also be used for actions in the past just as the present perfect continuous is used for actions in the present:
    • “Sue is very angry because she has been waiting for two hours.”
      • Both parts of the sentence are present tenses.
    • “Sue was very angry because she had been waiting for two hours before he arrived.”
      • In this sentence both clauses refer to the past tense.
  • Information: The past perfect simple as well as the past perfect continuous are frequently utilized in conditional III sentences (if-clauses type 3), and also when describing something in reported speech.

What is the rule for forming the past perfect continuous?

The past perfect continuous consists of three parts, which are the past tense form of the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ (→ had), the past participle of ‘to be’ (→ been) and the present participle, which is generally formed by adding ‘-ing’ to the base form (infinitive) of the verb. In detail:

Rule for conjugation of the past perfect progressive

had been’ + present participle

Additional examples of the past perfect progressive in sentences

  • “He’d been drinking much the night before so he had a headache.”
    • The shortened auxiliary verb ‘had’ is used here.
  • “We hadn’t been walking in the forest the day before.”
    • In this example, ‘not’ is shortened to ‘n’t’ for negatives.
  • “They had been driving for 20 hours before they took a break.”

Further explanations relating to the ‘Past perfect continuous’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Past perfect continuous (progressive)’ and may be helpful: