The past perfect continuous corresponds to the present perfect continuous, but with reference to a time earlier than ‘before now’. As with the present perfect continuous, we are more interested in the process.


Had you been waiting long before the taxi arrived?

We had been trying to open the door for five minutes when Jane found her key.

It had been raining hard for several hours and the streets were very wet.

Her friends had been thinking of calling the police when she walked in.

Forming the past perfect continuous

The past perfect continuous is composed of two elements: the past perfect of the verb to be (=had been) + the present participle (base+ing).

Subjecthad beenverb + ing
Ihad beenwalking
Shehad beentrying
SheHadn’t beensleeping
Had youbeeneating?
Interrogative negative
Hadn’t theybeenliving?

This form is also used in reported speech. It is the equivalent of the past continuous and the present perfect continuous in direct speech:

Jane said, “I have been gardening all afternoon”. = Jane said she had been gardeningall afternoon.

When the police questioned him, John said, “I was working late in the office that night”. = When the police questioned him, John told them he had been working late in the office that night.

Past perfect continuous – common mistakes

     Common mistakes      Correct version           Why?

I had working hard, so I felt very tired.
I had been worked hard, so I felt very tired.
had been working hard, so I felt very tired.The form of the past perfect continuous is had + been + verb (-ing).
I had been hearing the song many times before.had heard the song many times before.Some verbs (called stative verbs) are not normally used in the continuous form, e.g. know, like, understand, believe, hear, etc.

The difference between the present perfect continuous and the past perfect continuous is that the past perfect continuous describes an action that is definitely finished.

■ The structure of the past perfect continuous is:

had + been + – ing form of the verb