Past Perfect Continuous
English Grammar to Use
Grammar Activation Pack 11
Remember that perfect means finished or complete. Indeed, it is sometimes called the complete aspect.
Remember that the tenses are shown by the auxiliary verbs, be, do, and have.
The perfect aspect of the past tense is marked by the auxiliary verb had plus the past participle.
If we have the past tense of have, had, followed by a past participle, we have the past perfect.
Past Tense Verbs
Regular verbs form their past tense by adding ed.
Irregular verbs have a past tense form that you must learn individually.
To help you learn them, I have created an Irregular Verb Activator with 170 irregular English verbs which you can get as part of your FREE welcome pack at Britlish.com.
Remember, too, that the continuous aspect of the past tense is marked by the auxiliary verb be plus the ing form of a verb.
If you see the verb be followed by an ing form, it’s the continuous aspect.
Verb to be plus ing! is really all you need to know to identify the continuous aspect.
Perfect Continuous Aspect
So, if had plus a past participle gives us the perfect aspect, and be +ing gives us the continuous aspect, then together we get the past tense, perfect continuous aspect.
I had been teaching in schools for 5 years before I decided to teach exclusively online using Skype.
While it is easy to name the aspects and the tenses, what is less clear is how, when, and where we should use the past perfect continuous.
Let me help you with that right away.
Past Perfect Continuous
In this Grammar Activation Pack we will look at the past tense, perfect continuous aspect.
The past tense tells us about things which happened in the past.
The perfect aspect uses a past participle, and this also talks about the past.
The continuous aspect talks about something happening over a period of time; in this case from an earlier time in the past to another later time in the past.
Like the past perfect, the past perfect continuous talks about an earlier past in a later past.
Let’s look at some examples of usage to see what this means.
Continuation From Earlier to Later Past
I had been teaching in schools before I began teaching online.
An unfinished action in progress from an earlier time in the past until a later time in the past.
Students had been asking for these English Activation Packs for ages before I started making them.
Repeated continuous actions in progress from an earlier past time until a later time in the past.
Closed questions get a yes or no response.
- Had I been doing it?
- Had we been doing it?
- Had you been doing it?
- Had they been doing it?
- Had he been doing it?
- Had she been doing it?
- Had it been doing it?
- I had been doing it.
- We had been doing it.
- You had been doing it.
- They had been doing it.
- He had been doing it.
- She had been doing it.
- It had been doing it.
- I had not been doing it.
- We had not been doing it.
- You had not been doing it.
- They had not been doing it.
- He had not been doing it.
- She had not been doing it.
- It had not been doing it.
Open questions get more information than closed questions.
- Why had I been doing it?
- Where had we been doing it?
- When had you been doing it?
- What had they been doing?
- Who had been doing it?
- How had she been doing it?
- How had it been doing it?
Rhetorical questions are questions that have an obvious answer and are used to draw attention to something or express frustration, anger, or other emotions.
We begin these yes/no rhetorical questions with the contracted form of had not.
- Hadn’t I been doing it?
- Hadn’t she been doing it?
These questions suggest you expect a yes response and express frustration.
Questions About Time
Closed questions get a yes or no answer.
Open questions get more detailed answers to 5WH questions.
Sometimes we want to find out the duration of a particular action from an earlier time in the past to a later time in the past.
We get this information by asking a past perfect continuous question starting with how long.
- How long had you been writing for before becoming an English teacher?
- I had been writing since the 1980s.
- I had been writing for over 20 years.
For is used with the past perfect continuous to introduce a period of time.
- How long had you been living in England (for) before you moved to Spain?
We don’t have to use for in a spoken question but we do in the answer.
- I had been living in England for 40 years before I moved to Spain.
Since is used with the past perfect continuous to show a continuation from an earlier past time to a later past time.
- How long had you been living in England before you moved to Spain?
- I had been living in England since 1961.
Past in the Past
We could tell the story of Captain Britlish’s twisted knee using the past perfect continuous with the past simple:
- Captain Britlish had been practicing Kung Fu before he twisted his knee.
The past perfect continuous tells us that Captain Britlish had been doing something up to the point in time when his knee was twisted.
It does not matter where the past perfect continuous comes in the sentence. The past perfect continuous always refers to the past in the past.
- Before he twisted his knee, Captain Britlish had been practicing Kung Fu.
When we use action verbs, those which we can use in the continuous form, we use the past perfect continuous to say how long something had occurred from an earlier past up to a later time in the past.
- Before Captain Britlish twisted his knee, Schwa had been taking Kung Fu classes with him for many years.
Things that Failed to Happen
One other thing we can use the past perfect continuous for is to talk about hopes or wishes that did not happen.
- Captain Britlish had been hoping to teach Schwa a new Kung Fu technique, but as he had twisted his knee and was in hospital, it was not possible.
- As Captain Britlish had twisted his knee and was in hospital, it was not possible for him to teach Schwa the new Kung Fu technique he had been hoping to teach.
The best way to activate the past perfect continuous is to do some exercises where I can ask you some questions and tell you whether you are right or wrong.
You can do this in the Grammar Activator which is available on the next page.
Just click the Start Quiz button to begin.
You will be asked some random questions from a bank of questions testing your understanding of when to use the past perfect continuous.
Each time you complete the Grammar Activator you can refresh your browser and a new set of questions will be created for you.
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