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Past perfect continuous

Past perfect continuous construction: had + been + gerund (verb + ing)

Example verb: hire

I had been hiring   We had been hiring
You had been hiring   You (guys) had been hiring
He/she/it had been hiring   They had been hiring
(1) We use the past perfect continuous to talk about an action that occurred in the past and continued up until another time in the past (the past before the past). You can use an expression of time to express the duration of what had been happening. 
  • had been doing my work when my boss came in.
  • She had been waiting a long time before catching her train.
  • Maria had been seeing her boyfriend for two years before they broke up.
(2) It is common to use the past continuous to talk about a reaction, cause or effect of something in the past. 
  • Anne was very sick because she had been eating too many fast foods.
  • All the employees were exhausted because they had been working the whole day.
  • They were all sick and tired as they had all been feeling the effects of the crisis.

Past perfect continuous vs. past continuous

(3) Past continuous = was/were + gerund (verb + ing): Generally speaking, we use the past continuous to talk about an action in the past that is interrupted by something. We, therefore, use the past continuous to emphasise the ‘something’ that is being interrupted. 
  • She was cleaning her house when her friend rang the doorbell. 
  • We were helping our friends with their homework yesterday when Sam came in. 
(4) It is not obligatory to have an interruption, only that the past continuous is used to emphasise an interruption:
  • was playing football yesterday.
(5) Past perfect continuous had + been + gerund (verb + ing): Is generally used to emphasise a period of time in the past before the past. Therefore, it’s more acceptable to use time expressions such as; for three hours, since Tuesday, Since last year, for five days etc. Moreover, the past perfect continuous is used to show the reaction or effect of something rather than the past continuous. 
  • I had been flying over Scotland when my dad called.
  • You had been living in Spain for three years before you married your wife.
  • She was sick because she had been working outside all day in the cold.

INCORRECT: I was helpless that day because I was working without motivation.

CORRECT: I was helpless because I had been working without motivation.

(‘I was helpless’ is the reaction and it needs to precede the past perfect continuous).

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

Lesson #22: Past perfect continuous

Explanation

Construction: had + been + gerund (verb + ing) 

Example verb: translate

I had been translating   We had been translating
You had been translating   You (guys) had been translating
He/she/it had been translating   They had been translating
  • We use the past perfect continuous to talk about an action that occurred in the past and continued up until another time in the past (the past before the past). You can use an expression of time to express the duration of what had been happening. 
  • It is common to use the past continuous to talk about a reaction, cause or effect of something in the past. 
  • Generally, we use the past continuous to talk about an action in the past that is interrupted by something. We, therefore, use the past continuous to emphasise the ‘something’ that is being interrupted. 
Context
  • Hey Martin, how did the interview go yesterday?
  • It didn’t go so well because I had been feeling a little sick.1
  • Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear that. Was it your throat?
  • Yes, it was my throat and I had also been sneezing a lot too,2 which was kind of annoying.
  • I guess you didn’t manage to leave the best impression on your interviewer then?
  • Unfortunately, not, I’m afraid.
  • What do you think is the cause for your sickness?
  • Well, last Saturday I had been playing football with some old friends and the weather was extremely cold.3 So, I don’t think I kept myself warm enough.
  • That could definitely be the reason.
  • Yes, I think so too.
  • You ought to keep warmer.4
  • You’re spot on.5 I’ll take much more care next time.6
Analysis
  1. It didn’t go so well because I had been feeling a little sick. The past perfect continuous (had + been + feeling) is used here to describe the prolonged past before another past It didn’t go so well. The past continuous (was/were + gerund) can also be used here almost interchangeably.
  2. Yes, it was my throat and I had also been sneezing a lot too. The past perfect continuous (had + been + sneezing) is used to express a continuous or prolonged reaction in the past, also been sneezing a lot.
  3. Last Saturday I had been playing football with some old friends and the weather was extremely cold. The past continuous is being used here to describe two parallel actions in the past that were continuing. In this sense, the past continuous (was/were + gerund) can also be used.
  4. You ought to keep warmer. The modal auxiliary verb ought to is being used to give strong advice.
  5. You’re spot on. This is a colloquial way of saying ‘you’re right’ or ‘you are correct’.
  6. I’ll take much more care next time. The modal auxiliary verb will (I’ll) is used to describe a promise being made.

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