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Past perfect continuous and past continuous

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  • Englishteacher
    Participant
    27 April, 2008 at 15:00
    • Total posts: 3

    Can anyone explain the difference between these two tenses. I have read several explanations but none of them seem quite satisfactory. For example what is the difference between saying :

    I had been eating dinner , when the doorbell rang

    and :

    I was eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    I wonder if the first emphasises the fact that you were eating dinner whereas the other emphasises the fact the doorbell rang but this again depends on subtle intonation of voice. Hmmm any ideas ?

    tefl-mike
    Participant
    27 April, 2008 at 20:04
    • Total posts: 6

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    I was eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    The first action is a longer action which is interrupted by the second, shorter action.

    We usually use the past continuous to talk about an action that was in progress at a particular point in the past, for example:

    At 6 o clock this morning I was sleeping.

    So in your example, the action of eating dinner was in progress at the point when the doorbell rang.

    I had been eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    This is in fact not a very natural sentence. It would be more natural to say

    "I had been eating dinner for an hour when the doorbell rang"

    because the past perfect continuous is used to focus more on the fact that the action has been going on for some time, for example:

    He was wet becasue he’d been walking outside in the rain all day.

    Pruthiraj
    Participant
    29 July, 2010 at 8:23
    • Total posts: 9

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    We use the past continuous tense to describe a past action over a period of time.

    FORM:
    [was/were + present participle]
    Examples:
    You were studying when she called.
    Were you studying when she called?
    You were not studying when she called.

    Use the Past Continuous to indicate that a longer action in the past was interrupted. The interruption is usually a shorter action in the Simple Past. Remember this can be a real interruption or just an interruption in time.

    Examples:

    I was watching TV when she called.
    When the phone rang, she was writing a letter.
    While we were having the picnic, it started to rain.
    What were you doing when the earthquake started?
    I was listening to my iPod, so I didn’t hear the fire alarm.
    You were not listening to me when I told you to turn the oven off.
    While John was sleeping last night, someone stole his car.
    Sammy was waiting for us when we got off the plane.
    While I was writing the email, the computer suddenly went off.
    A: What were you doing when you broke your leg?
    B: I was snowboarding.

    The past perfect continuous is used to express how long something had been going on before something important happened in the past.

    FORM:
    [had been + present participle]

    Examples:
    You had been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.
    Had you been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived?
    You had not been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.

    We use the Past Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. "For five minutes" and "for two weeks" are both durations which can be used with the Past Perfect Continuous.

    Examples:

    They had been talking for over an hour before Tony arrived.
    She had been working at that company for three years when it went out of business.
    How long had you been waiting to get on the bus?
    Mike wanted to sit down because he had been standing all day at work.
    James had been teaching at the university for more than a year before he left for Asia.
    A: How long had you been studying Turkish before you moved to Ankara?
    B: I had not been studying Turkish very long.

    aramatidivya
    Participant
    3 September, 2012 at 4:00
    • Total posts: 1

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Which of the following is grammatically correct?
    1.When the policemen arrived what were they doing?
    2.What had the men been doing when the policemen arrived?

    dan
    Moderator
    3 September, 2012 at 12:05
    • Total posts: 760

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Which of the following is grammatically correct?
    1.When the policemen arrived what were they doing?
    2.What had the men been doing when the policemen arrived?

    Let’s rearrange the order of the second sentence to make them easier to compare:

    1. When the policemen arrived what were they doing?
    2. When the policemen arrived what had they been doing?

    In both sentences you have two actions in the past.

    In sentence 1, the second action interrupts the first action. So we are asking what action was in progress at the exact moment that the police arrived.

    In sentence 2, the second action happens before the first action, it doesn’t interrupt it. So first the men were in the process of doing something. This action then stopped at some point before the police arrived.

    So both are correct, it depends on the meaning you want to convey.

    Dan

    dolly
    Participant
    1 November, 2012 at 13:35
    • Total posts: 1

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    IN SECOND SENTENCE IF WE SHOW TIME DURATION THEN IT IS CORRECT.

    IF WE DO NOT KNOW THE TIME OF THEIR WORK DURATION THEN WE SHOULD USE FIRST SENTENCE.

    Conan
    Participant
    17 December, 2012 at 17:23
    • Total posts: 6

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Can anyone explain the difference between these two tenses. I have read several explanations but none of them seem quite satisfactory. For example what is the difference between saying :

    I had been eating dinner , when the doorbell rang

    and :

    I was eating dinner, when the doorbell rang

    I wonder if the first emphasises the fact that you were eating dinner whereas the other emphasises the fact the doorbell rang but this again depends on subtle intonation of voice. Hmmm any ideas ?

    I was just wondering. Might the first sentence be sufficient without reference to duration, if you were saying that you were eating dinner, stopped eating dinner and then the doorbell rang?

    0614
    Participant
    31 December, 2012 at 8:55
    • Total posts: 2

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Hello,

    This is what I understand from the replies given above.

    1. It was raining when I left the house.
    2. It had been raining when I left the house.
    3. It had been raining for an hour when I left the house.

    1. means
    the rain had started before I left the house, and had not stopped when I left the house

    2. means
    the rain had started before I left the house, but had stopped when I left the house

    3. with a duration added means
    the rain had started an hour before I left the house, and had not stopped when I left the house

    Have I understood correctly?

    dan
    Moderator
    2 January, 2013 at 13:17
    • Total posts: 760

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Have I understood correctly?

    Yes!

    0614
    Participant
    2 January, 2013 at 18:26
    • Total posts: 2

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Have I understood correctly?

    Yes!

    Thanks a lot! I’d always taken the English language for granted, and it was not till I’d picked up a third language that I realized I’ve yet to master my first language. Funny how a language I’d started learning only a year ago is enlightening me on the fundamentals of my mother tongue of 18 years–I feel so humbled, ha ha.

    (kindly correct me if I’ve made any mistakes!)

    :)

    RobertBrasil
    Participant
    19 April, 2014 at 23:23
    • Total posts: 1

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    Doing a lesson and I am having a lot of trouble seeing the difference and thought I would ask for help:

    I tried to convince my family and colleagues to do the same, but after a month, some of my colleagues went back to consuming the same amount of electricity as they were using before.

    Above is suppose to be the wrong answer…

    This is suppose to be the right answer:

    I tried to convince my family and colleagues to do the same, but after a month, some of my colleagues went back to consuming the same amount of electricity as they had been using before.

    The first is simple past continuous, and the second is past perfect continuous. In order to help my students I need to see it..I don`t know if this is a bad example but all other examples I can see the difference, here I am unable to see the difference.

    Thank you to anyone who helps…

    Robert :D

    MarinaA
    Participant
    26 April, 2014 at 6:33
    • Total posts: 9

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    I had been eating dinner , when the doorbell rang

    This sentence just doesn’t sound right or natural to me. May be I am mistaken, but it kind of sounds like you were not there when the event took place.

    I was eating when the phone rang. This is correct.
    (Past Continuous and then Past Simple)

    We use Past Continuous:
    1. to talk about an action or a situation which lasted for some time in the past.

    2. When one action in progress (in the past) was interrupted by another action.

    3. to talk about many activities happening at the same time in the past.

    Your example corresponds to 2.

    I tried to convince my family and colleagues to do the same, but after a month, some of my colleagues went back to consuming the same amount of electricity as they were using before.

    I tried to convince my family and colleagues to do the same, but after a month, some of my colleagues went back to consuming the same amount of electricity as they had been using before.

    I think that the second one is correct.
    Perfect tenses normally describe actions that have been going on for a prolonged period of time in the past until now, or until some point in the past, when they were interrupted or stopped. The idea is that your family had been doing that for months or years (in the past) before you to tried convince them (at some point in the past.)


    Background in Applied Linguistics and Social Studies. Likes the creative process in using an L2. Chomsky addict. Obsessive-compulsive about cats. Active contributor to http://teachers.onlineenglishexpert.com/

    batmanzordon
    Participant
    12 May, 2014 at 7:22
    • Total posts: 2

    Reply To: Past perfect continuous and past continuous

    I’ve always had problems with understanding with this.

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