Past Perfect Continuous Tense - Explore Meaning, Definition, Formula, Structure, Uses and Examples

Have you been thinking of learning the past perfect continuous tense? Well, this is your chance. This article will provide you with everything that you need to know about the past perfect continuous tense. It discusses the meaning, definition, formula, structure, rules to be followed when using the tense, functions and uses of the tense. Examples and practice questions are also given to help you understand the usage of the tense and develop a clearer idea of the same.

Table of Contents

What is the Past Perfect Continuous Tense?

The past perfect continuous tense is generally used in a sentence to depict an action that started at some time in the past and continued until a specific time in the past. It is also called the past perfect progressive tense since it refers to an action that had been progressing until a certain point in the past. Now, have a look at the different definitions of the past perfect continuous tense provided by various dictionaries.

Definition of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The past perfect continuous tense, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, is defined as a tense form used to indicate “an action or a situation that continued for a period of time before another action or situation in the past.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the past perfect continuous tense is defined as a tense that refers to “actions or events which started before a particular time in the past and were still in progress up to that time in the past.”

Formula and Structure of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Understanding the formula of the past perfect continuous tense can help you and make everything easy. Given below is the formula that you can employ when you write a sentence using the past perfect continuous tense.

Subject + had + been + present participle (verb+ing) + the rest of the sentence

Now, take a look at how sentences are structured in a positive, negative, interrogative and a negative interrogative sentence using the past perfect continuous tense.

Structure of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Positive

Negative

Interrogative

Negative Interrogative

Subject + had + been + present participle + the rest of the sentence

Subject + had + not + been + present participle + the rest of the sentence

Had + subject + been + present participle + the rest of the sentence

Had + subject + not + been + present participle + the rest of the sentence

(or)

Hadn’t + subject + been + present participle + the rest of the sentence

Examples:

  • I had been cooking my mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • You had been cooking your mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • He had been cooking his mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • She had been cooking her mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • They had been cooking their mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.

Examples:

  • I had not been cooking my mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • You had not been cooking your mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • He had not been cooking his mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • She had not been cooking her mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.
  • They had not been cooking their mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen.

Examples:

  • Had I been cooking my mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had you been cooking your mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had he been cooking his mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had she been cooking her mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had they been cooking their mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?

Examples:

  • Hadn’t I been cooking my mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Hadn’t you been cooking your mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Hadn’t he been cooking his mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Hadn’t she been cooking her mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Hadn’t they been cooking their mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had you not been cooking your mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had she not been cooking her mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had he not been cooking his mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?
  • Had they not been cooking their mom’s favourite dish when she walked into the kitchen?

Rules to be Followed when Using the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Similar to the present perfect continuous tense, the past perfect continuous tense also consists of two helping verbs and a main verb. Among the three verbs that represent the tense, the first helping verb should always be ‘had’ followed by ‘been’, which is in turn followed by the present participle of the main verb. This rule holds true when the sentence is a positive sentence. In case you are employing the tense form in an interrogative sentence, the helping verb ‘had’ comes first followed by the subject which is in turn followed by the the helping verb ‘been’ and the present participle of the main verb.

For a negative sentence, ‘not’ is placed after the first auxiliary verb ‘had’ and for a negative interrogative sentence, you can either use the contraction ‘hadn’t’ or place ‘not’ after the subject.

Uses of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The past perfect continuous tense is used to perform two main functions. They are:

  • To denote an action that has been the cause of another action or event in the past.
  • To represent an action that started at some point in the past and continued or progressed till a particular time in the recent past.

Examples of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Now, let us look at a few examples to see how the past perfect continuous tense is used to perform the different functions.

Denoting an action that is the cause of another action in the past

  • Asha was completely exhausted as she had been travelling continuously for three days.
  • George was angry because he had been waiting for them the whole day.

Representing an action that progressed in the past until another action in the past

  • Do you know for how long Anitha had been working at the college before she moved to Pollachi?
  • I had been waiting to hear from the admissions officer for more than a month before I applied to other colleges.

Test Your Understanding of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Fill in the blanks with the right form of the tense in the following sentences:

1. Derrick __________ (work) at the hospital for over two years before he left for Spain.

2. I don’t think the place ____________ (function) well for a very long time before it shut down.

3. Theena __________ (sing) for an hour before her mom arrived.

4. _______ you ___________ (wait – interrogative) at the railway station for over two hours when the train finally arrived?

5. How long _____ you ____________ (stand) there to meet the manager?

6. The dogs ______________ (bark) continuously until the owner finally came home and fed them.

7. My brother _____________ (ask) me to buy him an Axon helmet for years before I could somehow make some money to buy him one.

8. They ______________ (live) in New York for four years when they had to leave due to personal reasons.

9. He __________ (run) around for hours looking for my dog before I found him with my neighbour at the park.

10. My cousins ______________ (suggest) that we called the police when we found the burglars.

Check if you used the tense correctly from the answers given below:

1. Derrick had been working at the hospital for over two years before he left for Spain.

2. I don’t think the place had been functioning well for a very long time before it shut down.

3. Theena had been singing for an hour before her mom arrived.

4. Hadn’t you been waiting at the railway station for over two hours when the train finally arrived?

5. How long had you been standing there to meet the manager?

6. The dogs had been barking continuously until the owner finally came home and fed them.

7. My brother had been asking me to buy him an Axon helmet for years before I could somehow make some money to buy him one.

8. They had been living in New York for four years when they had to leave due to personal reasons.

9. He had been running around for hours looking for my dog before I found him with my neighbour at the park.

10. My cousins had been suggesting that we called the police when we found the burglars.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

What is the past perfect continuous tense?

The past perfect continuous tense is generally used in a sentence to depict an action that started at some time in the past and continued until a specific time in the past. It is also called the past perfect progressive tense since it refers to an action that had been progressing until a certain point in the past.

What is the definition of the past perfect continuous tense?

The past perfect continuous tense, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, is defined as a tense form used to indicate “an action or a situation that continued for a period of time before another action or situation in the past.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the past perfect continuous tense is defined as a tense that refers to “actions or events which started before a particular time in the past and were still in progress up to that time in the past.”

What is the formula of the past perfect continuous tense?

Employing the past perfect continuous tense in a sentence can be done easily if you know the formula of the tense. Given below is the formula of the past perfect continuous tense.
Subject + had + been + present participle (verb+ing) + the rest of the sentence

What are the uses of the past perfect continuous tense?

The past perfect continuous tense is used to perform two main functions. They are:

  • To denote an action that has been the cause of another action or event in the past.
  • To represent an action that started at some point in the past and continued or progressed till a particular time in the recent past.

Give some examples of the past perfect continuous tense.

Here are a few examples to show you how the past perfect continuous tense can be used in sentences.

  • Asha was completely exhausted as she had been travelling continuously for three days.
  • George was angry because he had been waiting for them the whole day.
  • Do you know for how long Anitha had been working at the college before she moved to Pollachi?
  • I had been waiting to hear from the admissions officer for more than a month before I applied to other colleges.

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