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Advanced Level: Past Perfect Continuous Tense

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The Past Perfect Continuous is formed with had been + present participle

We had been waiting for two hours before they arrived.
Had you been waiting for more than two hours before they arrived?
We had not been waiting for two hours before they arrived.

1 Duration before a past event/action

We use the Past Perfect Continuous to show that something stared in the past and continued to a point in the past. The Past Perfect Continuous has the same function as the Present Perfect Continuous except that the action doesn't continue to the present time but stops before something else in the past.

They had been waiting for an hour before we arrived.
She had been working at that trading company for five years before she moved to their rival company.
How long had you been trying to contact Sarah before you gave up?
How long were you studying medicine before you dropped out?

2 The result of a past action

The Past Perfect Continuous before an action in the past shows the reason for a result.

Peter was tired because he had been working for more than eighteen hours.
He failed the test because he had not been studying.
I had been playing tennis for five years before the injury.

Past Continuous or Past Perfect Continuous

Without a phrase like 'for an hour' or 'since March' it is possible to use the Past Continuous instead of the Past Perfect Continuous but this can change the meaning of the sentence.

Peter was tired because he was working hard. This sentence shows that Peter was tired because he was working at that moment.
Peter was tired because he had been working hard. This sentence shows that Peter was tired as a result of working hard. It is possible that he continued working but the tense implies that he had just stopped.

Adverbs such as; always, only, never etc. are placed after the auxiliary 'had' and before the present participle.

I had never seen snow before 2012.
Had you really never seen snow before 2012?

Now complete the following using the correct form:

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

  • 1. I _ to make an appointment with the manager for two days before I finally succeeded.

  • 2. Claudia _ in London for six weeks before she was confident enough to go shopping alone.

  • 3. I _ three pints before I decided to go home so I couldn't drive. I had to walk.

  • 4. Danny _ the tickets to the concert a few weeks before so we didn't worry about missing it.

  • 5. We _ at the same supermarket for fifteen years so we were sad when it closed.

  • 6. I _ long before Sarah arrived which was surprising because she is usually never on time.

  • 7. We _ on the new product launch for weeks when management decided to shelve the project.

  • 8. I _ that Charlie Chaplin was American not English.