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The Past Perfect Progressive Tense

Spelling Tip

Verbing (Present Participle)

  • Add ing to most verbs. Ex. play > playing, cry > crying, bark > barking
  • For verbs that end in e, remove the e and add ing. Ex: slide > sliding, ride > riding
  • For verbs that end in ie, change the ie to y and add ing. Ex: die > dying, tie > tying
  • For a verb whose last syllable is written with a consonant-vowel-consonant and is stressed, double the last letter before adding ing. Ex: beg > begging, begin > beginning. However: enter > entering (last syllable is not stressed)

The past perfect progressive (continuous) is used to describe an action that started in the past and and was still in progress when a second action started. Both actions began and ended in the past. As in the past perfect simple, the sentence has two parts:

  1. The past perfect progressive, to refer to the action that was in process
  2. The past simple to refer to the action that happened after the first action
  1. Ben had been working for three hours when Rachel came home.
  2. By the time Sam found an umbrella, it had been raining for ten minutes.

To form the past perfect progressive, use the auxiliary (helping) verb had + been + verbing (present participle).

Subject Have/Has + Been + Verbing Rest of Sentence
I / You / We / They
He / She / It
had been talking for two hours when he got up and left
had been texting her long before they met

Note: The order of phrases may be switched, but the meaning will stay the same.

  1. By the time Catherine got to the office, the client had been waiting for an hour.
  2. The client had been waiting for an hour by the time Catherine got to the office.

Past Perfect Simple or Past Perfect Progressive (Continuous) – Which to use?

Punctuation Tip

When you begin a sentence with a time expression, put a comma (,) after the first part of the sentence.

In general, use the past perfect simple when the first action started in the past and ended before the second action began. Use the past perfect progressive when that first action was still in progress when the second action began. Remember, both actions ended in the past.

  1. I had fed the dogs before I tripped and fell.
  2. I had been feeding the dogs when I tripped and fell.

Negative Sentences in the Past Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

Useful Tip

Time Expressions in the Past Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

  • Use since with a specific hour, month, year or a period in the past > since 2002 / since Tuesday
  • Use for with a number of hours, days, months or years > for twenty years
  • Use already between had and the verb > had already been flying
  • Use before, when and by the time before the past simple > when they saw the boys

When creating negative sentences, we use the auxiliary (helping) verb hadn’t (had not) + been + the ing (present participle) form of the verb.

Subject Auxiliary Verb Been + Verbing Rest of Sentence
I / You / We / They
He / She / It
hadn’t (had not) been sleeping when you arrived
  1. I hadn’t been feeling well, so I sent him away.
  2. Simon had not been expecting a positive answer when he got a job.
  3. The hikers hadn’t been walking long before they got lost.

Yes/No Questions in the Past Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

To create a question that will be answered with a yes or no, use Had (or Hadn’t for a negative question) + been + the ing (present participle) form of the verb.

Auxiliary Verb Subject Been + Verbing Rest of Sentence
Had I / you / we / they
he / she / it
been working when she called
Hadn’t been assisting you
  1. Had he been drinking when you found him?
  2. Had the manager been complaining about Jim before she fired him?
  3. Hadn’t the snow been falling for hours before then?

Wh-Questions in the Past Perfect Progressive (Continuous)

Wh- questions are questions that require more information in their answers. Typical wh- words are what, where, when, why, which, who, how, how many, how much.

To form a wh-question, start with the wh-word, then add had, then the subject (a person or thing that had been doing the action), followed by been and the ing (present participle) form of the verb, and only then add the rest of the sentence.

Wh-Word Auxiliary Verb Subject Been + Verbing Rest of Sentence
What had I / you / we / they
he / she / it
been doing until then
Who been dating before me
  1. What had you been doing when you cut your finger?
  2. Which fax message had you been trying to send when the power went off?
  3. How long had he been waiting?

Exercises – Past Perfect Progressive

Fill in the correct form of the Past Perfect Progressive or Past Simple as in the examples

  1. I‘d been trying to sell my car for six months before I found a buyer (try/find)
  2. Sheila had not been dieting for long when she began to lose weight. (not diet)
  3. How long had the fire been burning before the firefighters arrived? (burn/arrive)
  1. Dylan ______ chess for several years before he _______ his first tournament (study/enter)
  2. Before I _______ to work here, who ______ the client’s account? (start/ manage)
  3. Although they _______ the house for two years, it still _____ ready. (build/not be)
  4. Mario _______ well before the exam. (not feel)
  5. At last we ______ the movie that everyone _______ about. (see/talk)
  6. The students _____ math problems when one of them fainted. (solve)
  7. How long _____ he _____ before the accident ______? (drive/occur)
  8. Paula and Terry ______ tennis when it _____ to rain. (play/begin)
  9. ______ you _______ a long time when you ______? (jog / faint)
  10. Our forces _______ in that area until two weeks before then. (not fight)

Answers:

  1. had been studying/entered
  2. started/managed
  3. had been building/wasn’t
  4. hadn’t been feeling
  5. saw/had been talking
  6. had been solving
  7. had/been driving/occurred
  8. had been playing/began
  9. Had/been jogging/fainted
  10. hadn’t been fighting

Examples

Positive

  1. Ben had been working for three hours when Rachel came home.
  2. By the time Sam found an umbrella, it had been raining for ten minutes.
  3. By the time Catherine got to the office, the client had been waiting for an hour.
  4. The client had been waiting for an hour by the time Catherine got to the office.
  5. I had been feeding the dogs when I tripped and fell.

Negative

  1. I hadn’t been feeling well, so I sent him away.
  2. Simon had not been expecting a positive answer when he got a job.
  3. The hikers hadn’t been walking long before they got lost.

Yes/No questions

  1. Had he been drinking when you found him?
  2. Had the manager been complaining about Jim before she fired him?
  3. Hadn’t the snow been falling for hours before then?

Wh-Questions

  1. What had you been doing when you cut your finger?
  2. Which fax had you been trying to send when the power went off?
  3. How long had he been waiting?