Past Perfect Continuous

When do we use the Past Perfect Continuous?

We use the past perfect continuous when we are talking about past actions and want to talk about the relationship between them. It is a very similar tense to the Past Perfect Simple, but the Continuous is used for more temporary actions. Because it is used for temporary actions, State Verbs are rarely used in the Past Perfect Continuous.


1. to explain how long something had been happening before another past action

If we talk about the actions in the order they happened then we would use the Past Simple.

  • I waited for Susan and she arrived

but the Past Simple Continuous allows the speaker to stress the duration of the waiting.

  • I had been waiting for Susan for 2 hours when she arrived.

2. to explain the cause of something in the past

To show that there is a connection between two past event, the earlier of which had stopped we do this with the Past Perfect Continuous

  • The pavement was wet, it had been raining.

3. to show something started in the past and continued up to another action in the past.

The past perfect continuous tells us ‘how long’, just like the present perfect continuous, but this time the action continues up to a point in the past rather than to the present. 

  • I was thirsty because I had been working in the sun all day.

4. as part of the 3rd conditional

To talk about unreal or imaginary things in the past.

  • If I had been listening I would have heard what the teacher said.

5. Signal words

  • already
  • before
  • for
  • just
  • never
  • not yet
  • once
  • until that day
  • when

6. Form

had + been + infinitive + ing

7. Examples

7.1. Affirmative sentences in the Past Perfect Continuous

Long formsContracted forms
I had been playing football.Id been playing football.
You had been playing football.Youd been playing football.
He had been playing football.He’d been playing football.

7.2. Negative sentences in the Past Perfect Continuous

Long formsContracted forms
I had not been playing football.Id not been playing  football.
I hadn’t been playing  football.
You had not been playing football.Youd not been playing  football.
You hadn’t been playing  football.
He had not been playing footballHed not been playing  football.
He hadn’t been playing  football.

7.3. Questions in the Past Perfect Continuous

Long formsContracted forms
Had I been playing football?There are no contracted forms.
Had you been playing football?
Had he been playing football?