Past Perfect Continuous – grammar

The past perfect continuous (also called past perfect progressive) is a tense which is used to show that an action started in the past and continued up to another point in the past.

Forming sentences in Past Perfect

The past perfect continuous is formed using had + been + present participle. Questions are indicated by inverting the subject and had. Negatives are made with not.

Forming affirmative sentences


Forming negative sentences


Forming questions

Hadyoubeenplaying football?
Hadwebeenwasting time?
Hadtheybeendoing something?

Contraction with Past Perfect Continuous

When we use the Past Perfect Continuous in speaking and informal writing, we often contract the subject and the first auxiliary verb.

I had beenI’d been
you had beenyou’d been
he had been
she had been
it had been
he’d been
she’d been
it’d been
we had beenwe’d been
they had beenthey’d been

In negative sentences, we can contract the first auxiliary verb and “not”:

  • We hadn’t been sitting there long.
  • Pete hadn’t been studying very hard.

Using Past Perfect Continuous

USE 1 Duration before something in the past

We use past perfect in sentences that describe something that started in the past and continued up to another action or time in the past.


  • Lionel had been working at the school for a year when he met Louisa.
  • We’d been living in Tenerife for three years when the covid pandemic started.
  • Lorna had been walking for hours when she finally found the house.
  • Had he been waiting long before the taxi arrived?
  • They had been talking for over an hour before Lucy arrived.
  • Louis wanted to sit down because he had been on his feet all day.
  • Leonardo had been teaching at the university for more than a year before he left for Canada.
  • How long had you been studying Dutch before you moved to Amsterdam?

Past Perfect Continuous tenseShe had been waiting for about an hour.

USE 2 Cause of something in the past

Using the past perfect continuous before another action in the past is a great way to show cause and effect. It is frequently used to describe an event that finished just before another event in the past.


  • Robin was tired because he had been jogging.
  • Jeanette gained weight because she had been eating too much.
  • The pavement was wet, it had been raining.
  • The kids had been playing and so the room was a mess!
  • Marilyn failed the exam because she had not been attending class.

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