Past Perfect Continuous
had been + present participle, ie -ing
Duration before something in the past
By the time I left England we had been living in London for three years.
Cause of something in the past
Igor was tired because he had been swimming.
1. Duration before something in the past
We use the Past Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. "For ten minutes" and "for three weeks" are both durations which can be used with the Past Perfect Continuous.
- By the time I left England we had been living in London for three years.
- How long had you been living in London before you left?
- We apologised because we had been keeping them waiting since 3 pm.
- He had been working at that school for five years before he left.
- How long had you been waiting for the train?
- Simona wanted to sit down because she had been standing all day at work.
- They had been talking for over an hour before Jane arrived.
- John had been teaching at the university for more than two years before he left for Afica.
- A: How long had you been studying French before you moved to Paris?
- B: I had not been studying French very long.
2. Cause of something in the past
Using the Past Perfect Continuous before another action in the past is a good way to show cause and effect.
- Igor was tired because he had been swimming.
- Jane failed the final test because she had not been attending class.
3. Past Continuous vs. Past Perfect Continuous
If you do not include a period of time such as "for ten minutes," "for three weeks" or "since Monday," many English speakers choose to use the Past Continuous rather than the Past Perfect Continuous. You have to be careful because this can change the meaning of the sentence.
The Past Continuous emphasizes actions that are interrupted, whereas Past Perfect Continuous emphasizes a period of time before something in the past.
- He was tired because he was exercising so intensely.
- This sentence emphasizes that he was tired because he was exercising at that exact moment.
- He was tired because he had been exercising so intensely.
- This sentence emphasizes that he was tired because he had been exercising over a period of time. It is possible that he was still exercising at that moment OR that he had just finished.
4. IMPORTANT Non-Continuous Verbs/ Mixed Verbs
Some English verbs do not form a continuous tense, hence the name non-continuous verbs. These include for example the verb "to love", "to like" or "to belong".
Other English verbs have several meanings, one of which usually do not form a continuous tense. These verbs are called mixed verbs.. These include for example the verb "to have" or "to be".
If these verbs occur in a sentence, where we would normally use the Present continuous tense, we must replace it with the Present perfect.
- The car had been belonging to Martin for years before Kate bought it. incorrect
- The car had belonged to Martin for years before Kate bought it. correct
5. Position of adverbs
The examples below show the placement for grammar adverbs such as: always, only, never, ever, still, just, etc.
- You had only been waiting there for a few minutes before the train arrived.
- Had you only been waiting there for a few minutes before the train arrived?
6. Active / Passive
- I had been building my new house for three years before I decided to sell it unfinished. Active
- My new house had been being built for three years before I decided to sell it unfinished. Passive
The past perfect continuous is not used often in its passive form.