How do we use the Past Perfect Continuous?
How to Form the Past Perfect Continuous:
- As it is a “perfect verb form” we have to use the auxiliary “have” plus a past participle
- It is also a “continuous verb form” so we have to use the auxiliary “be” plus a verb in the “ing” form
Combined together we get had + been + verb+ing:
- I had been painting my house, my hair was covered in blue paint!
- When I went into my son’s room I saw that he had been crying.
- She was very red because she had been running.
As with the Past Perfect Simple the Past Perfect Continuous is used to talk about an action that happened before another action in the past.
- When I went into my son’s room I saw that he had been crying. … He was crying before I went into his room, when I went into his room his eyes were red and I could see that this was caused by his tears.
The difference between the Past Perfect Simple and Past Perfect Continuous:
Sometimes there is no apparent difference.
- Mary had lived in Paris for three years when she got married.
- Mary had been living in Paris for three years when she got married.
Normally the difference is:
- Past Perfect Simple for completed actions.
- Past Perfect Continuous when we are interested in the action over a period of time.
- By six o’clock I had painted the table and the chairs – They were now blue.
- My hands were blue because I had been painting the chairs and table.
Remember that certain verbs are considered to be Non-continuous verbs we would say:
- John had had three cars before he bought his Mercedes
- and NOT
John had been having three cars before he bought his Mercedes
Difference between Past Perfect Continuous and Past Continuous
- The Past Continuous refers to an ongoing action at the same time as another action in the past.
- The Past Perfect Continuous refers to an action that was happening before another action in the past.
- When I arrived at John’s house he was cooking dinner. (dinner wasn’t ready)
- When I arrived at John’s house he had been cooking dinner. (the kitchen was full of dirty pots and pans)