English grammar – Past perfect continuous

Form

Affirmative: had been + present participle (verb + ing)
Negative: hadn’t been + present participle (verb + ing)

Meaning

  1. Past perfect continuous is used to talk about longer actions or events that happened before or up to another action or event in the past.
    • He was tired because he had been playing football all day.
    • They ‘d been driving for three hours when the accident happened.
    • When I saw her I could see that she had been crying.
  2. When the action or event is more temporary we often use past perfect continuous. When it is more permanent we often use past perfect simple.
    • We found the house where my grandparents had lived. (past perfect simple)
    • We found a house where another family had been living for a few months. (past perfect continuous)

Additional points

  1. Some verbs are not normally used with past perfect continuous because they are not action verbs. believe, belong, depend, hate, know, like, love, mean, need, prefer, realise, suppose, want, understand.
    • I had known him for ten years when he got married – correct
    • I had been knowing him for ten years when he got married –incorrect
    • I had belonged to the tennis club for 25 years when I left – correct
    • I had been belonging to the tennis club for 25 years when I left –incorrect

Pronunciation

See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below.

  1. Been is usuallly reduced to its weak form.
    • We’d been driving for a long time: /bɪn/

Related grammar points

Past perfect
Tense and aspect

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