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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Past Perfect – Verb Form

This post will show you how to form the Past Perfect. To see how to use the Past Perfect, click here.

Affirmative Statements

Subject Had Past Participle
I had gone to school.
You had lived in Alaska.
He/She/It had watched TV.
We had walked to the store.
They/You (plural) had played tennis.
   

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Negative Statements

Subject Had + Not (hadn’t) Past participle
I hadn’t eaten dinner.
You hadn’t waited for us.
She/He/It hadn’t driven very fast.
We hadn’t thought about the consequences.
They/You (plural) hadn’t slept by 8:00 am.

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Yes/No Questions

Had Subject Past Participle
Had you been to Frankfurt before?
Had he cooked dinner?
Had they written their essay?
   

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Short Answers

Yes Subject Had No Subject Had + Not (hadn’t)
Yes, I had. No, I hadn’t.
Yes, he had. No, he hadn’t.
Yes, they had. No, they hadn’t.
   

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Information Questions

Wh- Word Had Subject Past Participle
Who had you voted for?
What had she arranged?
When had he quit smoking?
Where had it gone?
How had they broken the dishes?
Why had they changed jobs?
Who (subject) had left?
What (subject) had happened?

Past Perfect – Meaning and Use

past_perfect GraphicThis post will show you how to use the Past Perfect. To see how to form the Past Perfect, click here.

The Past Perfect expresses the relationship in time between two past events. It shows that one action or state happened before another action or state in the past. The Past Perfect expresses the first event and the Past Simple often expresses the second, or later, event.

  • I had just completed the exam. (Past perfect, 1st event)
  • I felt so relieved. (Past Simple, 2nd event)

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The past time can be recent or distant.

  • Michael called me this morning, but I wasn’t there; I had already left.  (Recent time)
  • Michael wrote me last year, but I never got the letter; I had moved away.

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The Past Perfect is often used in sentences containing past time clauses. The Past Perfect is used to indicate the first event, and the Past Simple is used for the second event. Before, by the time, when, until, and after introduce the time clause.

Past Perfect (1st Event)                                    Past Simple (2nd Event)

The thief had escaped                                    before I called the police.

We had calmed down                                    by the time the police came.

He had been upstairs                                    when we came home.

We hadn’t noticed                                                until we heard the footsteps.

After I had called the police,                         we realized the thief was gone.

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In sentences with before, after, by the time, and until, the Past Perfect is sometimes replaced by the Past Simple with no difference in meaning.

  • I had gone inside before I took off my coat. = I went inside before I took off my coat.
  • After I had gone inside, I took off my coat. = After I went inside, I took off my coat.

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The Past Perfect is often used with the same adverbs and prepositions as the Present Perfect: already, yet, still, ever, never, for, since, and just.

  •  By  lunch time, we had  already discussed the new budget and written a new report.
  • I had lived in Texas for 12 years before I moved to California.
  • Had she ever eaten a hot dog before she came to the United States? No, she’d never had one!!

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By + a time can be used with the Past Perfect to express the later time in the sentence.

  • We had finished by then.
  • By noon, we had hiked two miles.