Past Perfect Continuous Tense

An In-depth Guide to Past Perfect Continuous Tense


Understanding the Past Perfect Continuous Tense is a key step to enhance your English language proficiency. This tense is most frequently used in spoken and written English to describe actions that were ongoing in the past before another past action occurred.

Definition of Past Perfect Continuous Tense

In simple terms, the Past Perfect Continuous Tense is used to talk about actions or situations that were in progress before some other actions or situations. There are also other much more specific uses for this tense. We will discuss them later in the tutorial.

Structure of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The structure for forming sentences in Past Perfect Continuous Tense are as below:

Affirmative form

Subject + had been + Verb-ing + Object

Example: She had been working for more than 11 hours when her boss relieved her.

Negative Form

Subject + had not been + Verb-ing + Object

Example: They had not been living in Paris for two years when they decided to move out.

Question Form

Had + Subject + been + Verb-ing + Object?

Example: Had she been waiting for long before you arrived?

Usage of Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The Past Perfect Continuous Tense is often used in the following ways:

  • Long action before something in the past: When we want to express an action that started in the past and continued up until another action occurred, we often use this tense. For example – She had been studying for five hours when her friend visited her.
  • Point out cause of something: The Past Perfect Continuous Tense is also used to demonstrate the cause and effect of some past action. For example – His hands were dirty as he had been painting the house.
  • Lived/stayed somewhere: When talking about a lengthy stay or life somewhere in past, we use this tense. For example – They had been living in Spain for three years before they came back to America.

Signal Words for Past Perfect Continuous Tense

There are some words that indicate that the Past Perfect Continuous Tense is required. Here are a few common ones:

  • For
  • Since
  • All day
  • The entire week
  • The whole year
  • A long time ago


In Past Perfect Continuous Tense, punctuation is quite direct. Like all other tenses, statements end with a period, questions end with a question mark, and if the sentence is negative, the contraction "hadn't" can be used i.e. ‘had not’ becomes ‘hadn’t’.


This tutorial on the Past Perfect Continuous Tense has covered what this tense is, how to structure it in your sentences and different contexts where it can be applied. Like all aspects of language learning, continuous practice is essential for you to master this tense. So keep practicing by writing and speaking in the Past Perfect Continuous Tense to ensure you become comfortable with it. Good luck!

Leave a Reply