Past Perfect Continuous Tense – Examples

The three main tenses in English grammar, namely the past tense, present tense, and future tense, communicate different time locations of actions in different ways. But it does not end there. Each of these tenses has different aspects within themselves that have unique functionality.

In this post, we will cover one of the aspects of the past tense called the past perfect continuous tense. This is the final aspect of the past tense and is a little trickier than the others. In a general sense, it denotes actions that began, continued, and finished in the past.

However, there are certain rules that we need to abide by while forming a sentence. So, let us get into a detailed discussion below.

What is past perfect continuous tense?

The past perfect continuous tense is amongst the four different aspects of the past tense. Just like the past perfect tense, it also talks about the past in the past. However, its main aim is to denote an action that started in the past and continued till another time in the past.

In simple words, the past perfect continuous tense expresses an action that started in the past, continued for some time, and got over in the past itself. Hence, it is also called the past perfect progressive tense.

As we can notice, the past perfect continuous tense is similar to the present perfect continuous tense. However, the past perfect continuous denotes an action with a time reference earlier than the present and sometime in the past.


The formula for the past perfect continuous tense is a bit complicated, but the following points will definitely help.

We form a past perfect continuous tense with an auxiliary verb “have” conjugated in its past form, “had”. After that, another auxiliary verb to be is applied in its past participle form, been. So, the phrase had been remains constant.

Following the auxiliary verbs, we add the main verb in its present participle form. This means the root form of the verb added with –ing, showing an ongoing process. So, the structure follows a pattern of had been preceding the main verb of the sentence.

Let us look at some examples.

  • She had been drinking juice before the teacher entered.
  • They had been playing with rock for hours before it finally started raining.

Moreover, we can also form negative sentences and question sentences with the past perfect continuous tense.

For a negative sentence, we insert not before the second auxiliary verb. The rest remains the same.

For example:

  • She had not been eating well.
  • It had not been functioning properly.

And to form questions, we simply exchange the subject with the first auxiliary verb, had, and the rest remains the same. But, of course, the sentence ends with a question mark.

For example:

  • Had you been waiting long before I arrived?
  • Had she been drinking?


So, we learned the definition of the past perfect tense and its formula. Let us now quickly have a look at when it is used.

  • The basic use is to indicate an action that started and continued up to a point in the past.
  • We also use this tense when we have to mention a cause of something in the past.

When we use past perfect continuous, words like before, when, by the time, etc., appear commonly.

So, these are the basic points that sum up the concept of past perfect continuous tense. Once you abide by them, it will become easier to understand and use.

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