Past Perfect Progressive – Verb Meaning and Use

past_perfect_cont GraphicThis post will show you how to use the Past Perfect Progressive (also called the Past Perfect Continuous). To see how to form the Past Perfect Progressive, click here.

The Past Perfect Progressive expresses the relationship in time between two past events, similar to the Past Perfect. However, the Past Perfect Progressive emphasizes that the first event was ongoing and continued up to or just before the second event.

  • Tomomi had been studying all night. (Past Perfect Progressive, 1st event)
  • She was exhausted at breakfast. (Past Simple, 2nd event)

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 For and since often show how long a situation lasted before the second past event.

  • Chris left his office at 6:00 pm. (Past Simple, 2nd event)
  • Hed been working since 8:00 am. (Past Perfect Progressive, 1st event)

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The Past Perfect Progressive is often used in sentences using past time clauses.

  • Michelle had been working for nine and a half hours (Past Perfect Progressive, 1st event)
  • by the time she left her office. (Past Simple, 2nd event)

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Certain common verbs can be used with the Past Perfect and the Past Perfect Progressive with little or no difference in meaning, but using the Progressive can show a more intense or emotional situation.

  • Mr. Garcia had lived there since 1982. (Past Perfect)
  • Mr. Garcia had been living there since 1982.  (Past Perfect Progressive)
  • I’d waited an hour (neutral)
  • I’d been waiting an hour. (I was so mad!)

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The Past Perfect can express a completed action that may or may not have happened recently. In contrast, the Past Perfect Progressive suggests that an action was continuing up to or ended just before a specific time in the past.

  • Janice had watered the garden before I arrived. (She may have watered it a few minutes or many hours before I arrived.)
  • Janice had been watering the garden before I arrived. (She watered the garden a few minutes before I arrived. The ground was still wet.)

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We do not use the Past Perfect Progressive to tell how many times an action is repeated.

  • I’d read it three times before. (Correct)
  • I’d been reading it three times before. (Incorrect)

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Both the Past Perfect and the Past Perfect Progressive are used to provide background information about earlier events. They are used to give reasons with because, express contrasts with although or even though, and are used to draw conclusions.

  • She looked very tired because she had been studying all night. (Reason)
  • She looked very tired because she had studied all night. (Reason)
  • She looked very tired although she had been sleeping for 12 hours. (Contrast)
  • She looked very tired although she had slept for 12 hours. (Contrast)
  • I realized that he had been criticizing my work. (Conclusion)
  • I realized that he had criticized my work. (Conclusion)
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2 thoughts on “Past Perfect Progressive – Verb Meaning and Use

  1. Pingback: Past Perfect Progressive – Verb Form | Present Simple ESL

  2. Pingback: All Twelve English Verb Tenses | Present Simple ESL

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