The past perfect continuous tense is formed with the past perfect tense of the verb to be, which is had beenpresent participle (verb–ing): I had been praying.

The past perfect continuous is used:

for an action that occurred over a period of time in the past.

Examples:

  • He had been playing saxophone in a jazz band.
  • The family had been living in a council house for many years.

 

for an action which started and finished in the past before another past action. Words such as since and for may be used.

Examples:

  • We had been waiting long when a waitress came up to us.
  • Jack got a job at last. He had been looking for a job since last year. 
  • The three of us had been studying for hours, so we took a break.

 

in reported speech when the present perfect continuous tense becomes past perfect continuous tense.

Examples:

  • John said, "We have been traveling by train across Europe."
  • John said (that) they had been traveling by train across Europe.

 

Past perfect continuous tense not used for states or feelings
The past perfect continuous tense is not normally used for states.

Examples:

  • No: He had been seeming pretty angry with me. 
    The simple past tense is used instead: 
  • Yes: He seemed pretty angry at me.

 

The past perfect continuous tense and the present perfect continuous tense
The past perfect continuous tense and the present perfect tense convey the same meaning as shown here.

 

Examples:

  • He was my business partner. We had been doing business together for seven years.
  • He is my buiness partner. We have been doing business together for seven years.
  • It was midnight and you had been watching television for four hours.
  • It is mignight and you have been watching television for four hours.
  • Why was he so angry? What had they been doing to him?
  • Why is he so angry? What have they been doing to him?
  • She had been shopping for eight hours for a new dress.
  • She has been shopping for eight hours for a new dress .

 

Past perfect continuous and past perfect tenses
The past perfect continuous tense and the past perfect tense can convey the same meaning as shown here.

 

Examples:

  • We had been looking everywhere for him when he didn't return.
  • We had looked everywhere for him when he didn't return.
  • Sandy was very confident because she had been rehearsing hard for the play.
  • Sandy was very confident becaue she had rehearsed hard for the play.

 

Past perfect continuous and past continuous tenses
The following show the difference between the past perfect continuous tense and the past continuous tense.

 

Examples:

  • They had been saying their prayers when I went to bed.
    (I went to bed after their prayers.)
  • They were saying their prayers when I went to bed.
    (I went to bed during their prayers.)
  • We had been having our dinner when he arrived.
    (He arrived after dinner.)
  • We were having our dinner when he arrived. 
    (He arrived during dinner.)