What is the Past Perfect Continuous tense? (I had been playing…)

What is the Past Perfect Continuous tense? (I had been playing…)


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The past perfect continuous is also called past perfect progressive or past perfect with be+ing.

  • When I went outside this morning the ground was wet. It had been raining.
  • We had been playing football for ten minutes when it started to rain.

1/ Construction

sujet + had been + verbal basis + ing

 Affirmative Negative Question
 I / you / he / she / we / you / they_    … had been playing_  … had not (hadn’t) been playing_  Had … been playing ?_

_

  • (+) She had been travelling for one month when she finally arrived in Mexico.
  • (?) Had she been travelling for one month when she finally arrived in Mexico ?
  • (-) She had not been travelling for one month when she finally arrived in Mexico.

2/ Use

* Something that started in the past and continued until another past action or event (in combination with the simple past):

  • Carol had been saving money for more than a year before she left for Canada.
  • How long had you been studying Japanese before you moved to Osaka ?
  • How long had he been watching TV when he felt asleep ?
  • We had been trying to open the door for five minutes when Peter found the key.
  • Bruce wanted to walk because he had been sitting all day at work.
  • How long had you been waiting before the bus arrived ?
  • They had been talking for over an hour before Kat arrived.
  • Phil had been working at that restaurant for two years when it went out of business.

* The cause and effect of something in the past

We can see the result of something that happened (we can use ‘because’)

  • Kevin was very tired. He had been running.
  • = Kevin was tired because he had been running.
  • Sarah gained weight because she had been eating too much.
  • Somebody had been smokingI could smell tobacco.
  • I was disappointed when she canceled the trip. I had been looking forward to spend some time with her.
  • Robert was crying because he had been fighting with his brother.

* indirect speech

  • ‘I was working late in the garage last night.’ => Nathan told them he had been working late in the garage last night.
  • ‘I have been partying all night.’ => Carol said she had been partying all night.

3/ Notes

Past Continuous or Past Perfect Continuous ?

With the perfect continuous pastoral, the duration of the action is more important, while with the past continuous, it is the action itself that is most important.

However, if the duration is not specified (for 45 minutes, for one week, since friday…) many English speakers prefer to use the past continuous tense.

  • Past continuous =>   We were playing tennis when it started raining.

When we were playing tennis it started raining. The focus is on what we were doing when it started raining (i.e. the tennis game).

  • Past perfect continuous =>   We had been playing tennis (for 45 minutes) when it started raining.

We had been playing tennis for a while, when we had just stopped, when it started raining. The emphasis is on the duration of the action (here the tennis game).

Some verbs do not take the continuous form:

These are mainly abstract verbs or verbs related to a mental state:

like / love / hate / prefer / need / want / belong / contain / fit / consist / seem / realise / know / believe / imagine / understand / remember 

  • Paul had been wanting to travel around the world before he died.  WRONG!
  • Paul had wanted to travel around the world before he died. CORRECT!

There is no past perfect continuous for the verb to be:

Had been being is simply replaced by had been

  • Tony had been being very happy because he won to the lottery.

The place of adverbs

The adverbs are placed before been: always, only, just, never, ever, still, etc.

  • He had just been waiting there for two minutes when the train arrived.
  • Had he just been waiting there for two minutes when the train arrived?

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