Past Perfect Continuous Tense. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.

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How to use the Past Perfect Continuous tense in English

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Suzy says:

 

We use the past perfect continuous tense to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. For example, “He had been studying all night, so he fell asleep in class.” Both things - the studying and falling asleep - happened in the past.

Here’s a few more examples:

- We had been struggling for several years before the business finally took off.
- Matt had not been teaching at the university for a long time before he resigned.
- Luke gained weight because he had been eating pizza three times a day.

 

Your English lesson about the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

 

Welcome to the Past Perfect tense lesson! In this lesson, you will learn many of the general rules about the past perfect tense, its structure, and its common uses.
 
The past perfect continuous is formed like this:
 
[had been + present participle]
 
We use the past perfect continuous to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. Note that this is similar to the present perfect continuous; however, the duration does not continue until now, it stops before something else in the past.
 
Let’s see how this works with a few examples:
 
We had been struggling for several years before the business finally took off.
He had been studying all night, so he fell asleep in class.
We were thirsty because we had been working for two hours outside in the heat.
How long had you been waiting to get on the bus?
Matt had not been teaching at the university for a long time before he resigned.

 
You can see from one of the above examples that the question form of the past perfect continuous looks like this:

 

[had + subject + been + present participle]

 

Question form:
How long had you been waiting to get on the bus?

 

And, for the negative form we place not between had and been.
Matt had not been teaching at the university for a long time before he resigned.

 

Using the past perfect continuous before another action in the past is a good way to show cause and effect.
 
Examples:
 
Jason was tired because he had been jogging for two hours.
Luke gained weight because he had been eating pizza three times a day.
Betty failed the final test because she had not been attending class.

 
Past Continuous vs. Past Perfect Continuous
 
If you do not include a duration (period of time), many English speakers prefer to use the past continuous rather than the past perfect continuous. However, this can change the meaning of the sentence. The past continuous tense emphasizes interrupted actions, whereas the past perfect tense continuous emphasizes a duration of time before something in the past. Look at the examples below to understand the difference.
 
Examples:
 
He was tired because he was exercising so hard.
This past continuous tense sentence tells us that he was tired because he was exercising at that exact moment.
 
He was tired because he had been exercising so hard.
This past perfect tense sentence tells us that he was tired because he had been exercising over a period of time. It is possible that he was still exercising at that moment OR that he had just finished.

 

More past perfect continuous tense exercises

It is important to remember that non-continuous verbs cannot be used in any continuous tenses. Also, certain non-continuous meanings for mixed verbs cannot be used in continuous tenses. Instead of using the past perfect continuous with these verbs, you must use past perfect.
 
Non-continuous verbs: verbs that cannot be used in continuous forms are usually verbs that you cannot see somebody doing. These verbs are rarely used in continuous forms. They are:
Abstract verbs:  Be, want, cost, need, care, contain, owe, exist, etc.
Possession verbs: Own, belong, possess, etc.
Emotion verbs: Like, love, hate, dislike, fear, envy, etc.
 
This sentence is not correct:
Sam had been wanting a new sports car for twenty years.
This sentence is correct:
Sam had wanted a new sports car for twenty years.              
 


It’s story time
 
Now that we’ve learned a lot about the past perfect continuous tense, let’s see how this is used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the past perfect continuous is used.
 
She had been traveling for twenty hours, but it felt like it had been days. First, she took a train from Boston to New York. She liked trains, so this part was easy. Next, she took a taxi from Penn Station to JFK Airport. She had been visiting America for almost a month, but she was not prepared for this cab ride. She couldn’t understand what the taxi driver was saying, he drove very fast, and he seemed like he was very angry because he was cursing at other drivers for the entire trip. She felt very relieved when they finally arrived at the airport.
 
After she found the correct check-in counter, she was disappointed to see a very long line. Before she finally checked in, she had been waiting for almost 35 minutes. Then she walked to the gate.
 
She realized that she had about three hours before her flight was scheduled to depart. She decided to walk around and take a look around the airport. She had been shopping for almost an hour before she started to feel tired and she decided to sit down and wait until it was time to board.
 
Finally, she got on the plane. At that point, she was already exhausted, and she still had about 18 hours of traveling ahead of her. The plane had only been flying for about 30 minutes before she fell asleep. Unfortunately, she had been sleeping for what seemed like five minutes when the small children who were sitting a few rows behind her started to fight and cry.
 
They had been fighting for about 13 hours of the 15 hour flight when the plane finally landed in Hong Kong. She had not been able to sleep at all during the flight. It was the worst flight she had ever been on.

That’s the end of the lesson on the Past Perfect Continuous tense.

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