Sergey Sulimov


Sergey Sulimov


Past Perfect Continuous – Past Perfect Long Tense

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There are past tense verbs a limited number in English, but native speakers use them all in both formal and informal speech. Past Perfect Continuous is this a good example. At first glance, it may seem like a rare and complicated form, but native speakers use it all the time. So, what is this tense and when is it used? Read on to find out!

What is the Past Perfect Continuous

If we decompose this time name into its components, it becomes clearer exactly when it is used and what it means:

  • Past – this part refers to an action/condition that happened/occurred before the present tense;
  • Perfect – this part speaks about the action finality;
  • Continuous – this component conveys an action/state that has been going on (continued) for some time or is (was) in process.

Therefore, we use Past Perfect Continuity when we’re talking about something that happened in the past, lasted for time a period, and then ended completely in the past.

I had been taking a nap when the earthquake rocked my house. — Я дремал, когда землетрясение сотрясло мой дом.

Peter started waiting at 9 am. I arrived at 11 am. When I arrived, Peter had been waiting for two hours. — Питер начал ждать в 9 утра. Я приехал в 11 утра. Когда я приехал, Питер ждал уже два часа.

The Past Perfect Continuous typical uses

  • To describe an action in the past that once began and continued to another action in the past.

Here the marker words can help you: for (в течение какого-то времени), since (с какого-то времени), when (когда), and before (до того как).

I had been working as an architect until I decided to get a degree in philosophy. — Я работал архитектором, пока не решил получить степень по философии.

The speaker once started working as an architect, worked for a while, and then decided to get a degree in philosophy (next action in the past).

The boys had been playing soccer for about an hour when it started to rain. — Мальчики играли в футбол около часа, когда начался дождь.

  • To denote an action in the past that has lasted until a specific moment in the past.

In this case, marker words that begin with by are often used, e.g., by the year-end (к концу года), by Sunday (к воскресенью).

By Friday, he had been working on his new book for three weeks. — К пятнице он работал над своей новой книгой уже три недели.

When not to use the Past Perfect Continuous

There are two important things to remember about the past perfect continued tense.

  • This is the verb NOT used tense to refer to actions that continue until the present moment. In such a case, you should choose the present perfect continued tense.

I had been waiting for Mary for two hours. — Я ждал Мэри два часа (говорящий провел в ожидании два часа, но сейчас уже не ждет).

I have been waiting for Mary for two hours. — Я жду Мэри два часа (говорящий провел в ожидании два часа на настоящий момент и он продолжает ждать или перестал это делать только что, перед моментом речи).

  • As with the other verb tenses using the Continuous form, state verbs are not used in the past perfect continued.

These are, for example, verbs like to want (хотеть), to like (любить), to believe (верить). Instead, choose the tenses Past Perfect or Past Simple.

Right! The Inca Empire existed for over a thousand years until it collapsed / The Inca Empire had existed for over a thousand years until it collapsed. — Империя инков просуществовала в течении века, пока не распалась.

Wrong! The Inca Empire had been existing for over a thousand years until it collapsed.

How the Past Perfect Continuous is formed

To construct a sentence in this tense, you need two auxiliary verbs: to have (its past form) and to be (in the past participle form) – and a main verb in the continued form.

Подлежащее + had + been + V-ing.

My family had been living in a mountain village for 20 years until an earthquake destroyed it. — Моя семья прожила в горной деревушке 20 лет, пока землетрясения ее не разрушило.

Question, affirmation, denial

Use the above formula to construct an affirmative sentence. The rules for adding the ending -ing to a sense verb are the same as for the other Continuous forms.

When we use Past Perfect Continuous in colloquial speech, we often abbreviate the first auxiliary verb. Sometimes we can do this in informal writing as well:

  • I had been — I’d been;
  • you had been  — you’d been;
  • he had been — he’d been;
  • she had been — she’d been;
  • it had been — it’d been;
  • we had been — we’d been;
  • they had been — they’d been.

It’d been pouring with rain that day until lunchtime. — В тот день до обеда шел проливной дождь.

Note the adverbs position always, only, never, ever, still, just in the sentence – they are placed between auxiliary verbs.

You had only been waiting there for a few minutes when she arrived. – You had only been waiting there for a few minutes when she arrived.

To ask a general question, i.e., without a question word, you must change the word order.

Had + подлежащее + been + V-ing?

Had you been studying English for long before you moved to the USA? — Ты долго учил английский, перед тем как переехал в США?

To ask a special question, that is, with a question word, put that question word first, and then keep the word order as above.

How long had you been studying English before you moved to the United States? — Как долго ты учил английский, перед тем как переехал в США?

To construct a negative sentence, add the particle not after the first auxiliary verb.

Подлежащее + had + not + been + V-ing.

He had not been studying English for long before he moved to the USA. — До переезда в США он недолго изучал английский язык.

In sentences with negation, the first auxiliary verb and the particle not can be abbreviated: had not – hadn’t.

They hadn’t been studying very hard. — Они не очень хорошо учились.

Knowing how to use long forms, like the one we’ve been working on today, will transform your speech and make it richer when you need to talk about the past. Try to use it whenever possible. Describing actions in chronological order instead, swap them around, and you can use the past perfect tense in both the simple and extended forms.

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