Past Perfect Continuous Tense Overview

Past Perfect Continuous Tense - Lesson #1

The past perfect continuous is a combination of the past perfect (I had left) and a continuous form (I am/was studying).

This verb tense is not used a lot.

The past perfect continuous shows that some action had already started and was continuing when a separate action or event happened in the past. It is important to remember that both events are finished, completed, or ended now. This is all about what happened in the past.

First, let's see how to make a past perfect continuous sentence.

Subject + had + been + verb(-ing)…
  • They had been eating when Nick arrived.
  • She had been working there for a year before she got married and quit.
  • I had been playing video games for a long time when they arrived.
Now, let's look at the two main ways that we use this verb tense.

1. Just like the past perfect, we use the past perfect continuous to show that something was happening before another thing happened.
  • I had been sleeping when she came into the room.
    (1st – Sleep; 2nd – She came in)

  • I had been working here for 3 years before I was fired.
    (1st – Working for 3 years; 2nd - Fired)
Or we can use it to talk about something that continued for a period of time in the past.
  • It had been snowing this morning.
We often make these sentences with the words "for", "since", "before", "when".
  • She had been exercising for a long time when I got there.
  • He had been crying since the morning.
  • They had been trying to have a baby for 10 years when she finally became pregnant.
2. We can use the past perfect continuous to show the cause of something in the past. We can understand easily if we just look at some examples.
  • He was tired because he had been playing basketball all day.
  • She felt sick because she had been eating cookies since the morning.
  • They were relaxed because they had been getting massages at the spa for 3 hours.
Those are the two main ways that we use this verb tense.

Now, let's look at how to make questions.

Here is how to make a yes/no question.

Had + subject + been + verb(-ing)…?
  • Had you been waiting long before you saw the doctor?
  • Had he been begging you to help him for a long time before I came?
Here is another way to make a yes/no question.
  • Were you tired because you had been cooking for many hours?
  • Was he angry because he had been waiting since 2 o'clock?
Now, let's look at question words.

Question Word + had + subject + been + verb(-ing)…?
  • What had you been doing before we got here?
  • Where had you been studying before you came to this school?
  • Why had you been thinking about quitting your job before you decided not to quit?
Just like the past perfect, we can make a contraction using pronouns and "had". Be careful because this is the same contraction as "would".

I had I'dI would I'd
She had She'dShe would She'd

But we can tell the difference easily. "Had" is followed by a past participle and "would" is followed by a regular verb.
  • I'd been studying for 2 hours when he came.
    (=I had been studying for 2 hours when he came.)

  • I'd study if I had time.
    (=I would study if I had time.)
This free English lesson is just an overview of the past perfect continuous verb tense. The following lessons will go over sentences and questions using this verb tense in much more detail. Make sure that you study these lessons until you understand this English grammar point well and feel comfortable using it an English conversation.