Past Perfect Continuous Tense – Form and Usage

Below are explanations to what is the past perfect continuous tense, and how it is made and when to use it and examples of using it.

The Past Perfect Continuous is also known as the Past Perfect Progressive because it describes a continuous action or process that was completed in the past.

We make the past perfect continuous by taking the past participle of ‘be’ and adding a verb with an ‘-ing’ ending:

I + had been + sleeping

Past Perfect Continuous: Positive form

 

Subject Past Participle of ‘be’ Present Participle of the verb + ing
I

You

She

He

It

We

They

had been sleeping

playing

drinking

painting

snowing

skiing

fishing

I had been sleeping soundly.

  • You had been painting flowers.
  • We had been skiing on holiday.
  • It had been snowing that morning.

Past Perfect Continuous: Negative form

Subject Past Participle (negative) of ‘be’ Present Participle of the verb + ing
I

You

She

He

It

We

They

had not been

 

hadn’t been (short form)

sleeping

playing

drinking

painting

snowing

skiing

fishing

 

  • I had not been paying attention.
    • I hadn’t been paying attention.
  • It had not been working for decades before they restored it.
    • It hadn’t been working for decades before they restored it.
  • They had not been playing near the pond that day.
    • They hadn’t been playing near the pond that day.

Past Perfect Continuous and making questions

To form a question (interrogative), use the Past Participle of ‘have’ + Subject + Past Participle of ‘be’ + verb with -ing.

Past Perfect Continuous: Positive Form Questions

Past Participle Subject Past Participle of ‘be’ + verb with –ing
Had I

you

she

he

it

we

they

been sleeping

been playing

been drinking

been painting

been snowing

been skiing

been fishing

 

  • Had you been waiting in line for a long time?
  • Had it been raining hard?
  • Had we been fishing before?
  • Had I been going to school for engineering?

 

Past Perfect Continuous: Negative Short Form Questions

 

Past Participle Subject Past Participle of ‘be’ + verb with –ing
Hadn’t I

you

she

he

it

we

they

been sleeping

been playing

been drinking

been painting

been snowing

been skiing

been fishing

 

  • Hadn’t I been working hard?
  • Hadn’t she been staying with her friend?
  • Hadn’t it been drying on the line?
  • Hadn’t we been studying for hours?

 

Using the Past Perfect Continuous

There are two ways we use Past Perfect Continuous:

  1. To Show Duration Before Something in the Past

The words ‘for decades’ in the example sentence ‘It had not (hadn’t)  been working for decades before they restored it’ tell us that that the action (‘working’) happened before a second action (‘restored’), which also happened in the past.

Here are some other examples:

  • I had not been running for months before I joined the club.
  • She had been practicing for weeks before the concert.
  • They had been drinking for quite a while before the accident.

 

  1. To show a cause of something in the Past

The Past Perfect Continuous is also used to show cause and effect by adding the word ‘because’:

  • She was freckled because she hadn’t been using sunscreen.
  • We got the tickets because we had been persistent.
  • He lost his chance because he hadn’t been paying attention.

 

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