The past perfect progressive shows that an action started in the past and continued up to another time or action, also in the past. It does not specify if the action continues after that point. This is a very uncommon verb form: less than .1% of verbs in spoken English are in this form.

Continue reading to learn how to form the past perfect continuous and when to use it, including loads of examples and charts!

Just to be clear, continuous and progressive are just different names for this same thing. In some countries, one word is more common, but continuous is more common around the world, so we use that!

Chart for Past Perfect Continuous Tense in English

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Illustration

Using the Past Perfect Continuous Tense in English

The past perfect continuous is really difficult. Lots of websites will claim to explain this tense in just a quick article, and this just isn’t possible (sorry!). We use this verb form in a few different situations, and it can have different meanings depending on the situation.  Here are some examples:

We were wet because it had been raining for hours.

I knew the city well at that point because I had been living there for a few years..

When I met your mom I was in pretty good shape because I had been working construction

Note that these correspond pretty closely with the different ways that we use the present perfect continuous form:

  • Recently Completed Actions

  • Actions Still Happening (with for/since)

  • New Routines and Habits

The past perfect continuous is basically the same, except shifted into the past time frame.

It is worth mentioning that, in many situations the past perfect and past perfect continuous are interchangeable.

Here are a few more examples:

That had been a difficult month. She had been working long hours.

I’d been going to the gym a lot back then.

We’d been cooking at home more at that point.

Table: Forming the Past Perfect continuous

Forming the past perfect continuous isn’t difficult. You will always use the same formula:

had + been + VERBing

You could also think of it as simple steps, too:

  1. First, use had (this is the past part)

  2. Then use been (this is the perfect part)

  3. Then use your main verb with -ing (this is the continuous part)

Here is the verb work conjugated into the past perfect continuous.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Verb Conjugation
Singular Plural
1st person had been working we  had been working
2nd person you  had been working you  had been working
3rd person he  had been working they  had been working
she  had been working
it  had been working

Notice that we can see both the perfect and the continuous aspect in this form. Had been is the perfect aspect. Been verb-ing is continuous aspect.

Other Forms of the past Perfect continuous

Negative Sentences

You always have two helping verbs in the past perfect continuous: had and been. To make a negative, simply make it had not been.

I had not been practicing for very long.

I had not been living in Boston for years, and I missed it.

I had not been studying, so I was doing poorly in school.

Because the past perfect continuous uses so many words, we often use contractions with not to make it a little shorter:

I hadn't been practicing for very long.

I hadn't been living in Boston for years, and I missed it.

I hadn't been studying, so I was doing poorly in school.

Questions

To make a question, put had before the subject:

Why did they break up? Had he been cheating?

How long had the car been running for when it finally died?

Why had you been studying Chinese if you were planning to move to France?

Passive Voice

Making passive sentences with rarer and more complicated verb forms like the past perfect continuous is extremely uncommon and almost always a bad idea. We really recommend that you rephrase a sentence to avoid creating such an awkward sentence.

They had been being observed a lot at work.

Hopefully you can see how awkward this sentence is. If you really need to make a passive sentence in this form, you should use the get passive to avoid the awkward combination of been and being.

Put get in the past perfect continuous (had been getting) and then the perfect form of the main verb. 

We had been getting observed a lot at work lately.

I'd been getting kicked off the internet every 5 minutes.


check out these other free grammar resources:


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