Past perfect continuous tense

Past perfect continuous tense

By Alena Lien, 

7 April 2021

Click below to expand each section. 

Form



Affirmative sentences 


[subject] + ["had been"] + [present participle of verb]


Contractions of "had" with pronouns:

I had = I'd

You had = You'd

He had = He'd

She had = She'd

We had = We'd

They had = They'd

It had = It'd



Please note: The contraction "I'd" can also mean "I would." The past participle usually follows "had," and not "would."


It is possible to have the verb "have" as both the auxiliary and main verb.


  • "He'd been having a difficult time at school."

  • "We'd been looking everywhere for him until he finally called us."



Negative sentences 


[subject] + ["had not been"] + [verb]


  • "I hadn't been feeling well and went to bed early."

  • "He hadn't been sleeping much before the exam."



Questions 


["had"] + [subject] + ["been"] + [verb]


[question word] + ["had"] + [subject] + ["been"] + [verb]



Questions in the past perfect continuous are not that common in everyday English. To me, native speakers will often use other tenses and idiomatic phrases to ask the same thing.


  • "Had he been thinking about the offer?"

  • "How long had she been working in the retail industry before this job?"



It is possible to make negative questions even though their use is quite specific. The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. However, contracted forms are preferred in general.



Contracted form:

["hadn't"] + [subject] + ["been"] + [verb]


[question word] + ["hadn't"] + [subject] + ["been"] + [verb]


  • "Hadn't he been thinking about the offer?"

  • "Why hadn't she been sleeping?"



Full form:

["had"] + [subject] + ["not been"] + [verb]


[question word] + ["had"] + [subject] + ["not been"] + [verb]


  • "Had he not been thinking about the offer?"

  • "Why had she not been sleeping?"




Dynamic vs Static verbs



When it comes to continuous tenses, generally it should be used with dynamic verbs, not stative verbs.


Dynamic verbs (or action verbs) indicate action or progress - like "eat," "walk," "grow," "cook," etc.


Stative verbs (or event verbs) indicate a state or condition - that do not show qualities of change or progress. Like "believe," "love," "belong," "know," etc.


And then, there are verbs that are both dynamic and stative which can be used in continuous tenses. Like "think," "be," "have," "see" and "taste."



  • "I'd been doing so well until this question came up."

Not - "I'd been understanding so well until this question came up."



Having said that, it is also common for native speakers to use continuous tenses with stative verbs even if it is grammatically incorrect. Usually this is done to express exaggeration or emphasise their feelings.



Grammatically incorrect but (somewhat acceptable) slang examples:

  • "I'd been liking their music until they came out with their latest album."

  • "She'd been wanting more from life but eventually gave up."



Timeline



Here, it is kind of a combination of both the past perfect and past continuous tenses.


Events are usually ongoing activities that started before a particular time in the past and continues up to that time in the past.


A way of looking at the past perfect continuous is by asking, "Until this point, what was happening?"




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Uses



1.   To refer to past activities that were still ongoing before a certain point in the past.



  • "He'd been feeling unwell and finally went to see a doctor yesterday."

  • "We got a refund last week. Apparently we'd been paying more than we were supposed to."



- You can also use this to describe the duration of a past activity.


This is often used with "for" and "since."


  • "We'd been waiting outside for an hour until they finally let us in."

  • "They'd been arguing since Wally lost his job two months ago."




2.   To explain why something happened.



  • "I didn't receive your emails because you'd been sending them to the wrong email address."

  • "He was so tired. He'd been working all night to finish his homework."




3.   Used with "if" in conditional sentences when a different past is imagined.



  • "If he'd been going to classes, then he wouldn't have been expelled."

  • "We would've been at the concert by now if you hadn't been playing games all day."




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