Past perfect or past perfect continuous?

Why do we use the past perfect and past perfect continuous?

Use them when you have two verbs and want to show which one happened first.

  • Past perfect and past perfect continuous both happened before past simple.
  • Past perfect – for completed actions or when you talk about “how many”
  • Past perfect continuous – for ongoing actions or when you talk about “how long”

How to make a past perfect sentence

Past perfect

Subject

Had

Past participle

object

I

had

eaten

breakfast.

She

had

taken

the car.

They

had

seen

the movie.

Example:

Big_Fat_Red_Cat

The cat wasn’t hungry because he had eaten six pizzas for lunch.

Past simple – The cat wasn’t hungry

Past perfect – he had eaten six pizzas

Both actions happened in the past, but we want to say “eat” happened first.

He ate 6 pizzas first, then he felt tired.

“Eat 6 pizzas” is a completed action in this sentence, so we use past perfect.

Past perfect happened before past simple.

How to make a past perfect continuous sentence

Past perfect continuous

Subject

Had

been

verb + ing

I

had

been

running.

She

had

been

working.

They

had

been

eating.

Examples:

exhausted workout

He was tired because he had been exercising for a long time.

Past simple – He was tired

Past perfect continuous – he had been exercising

Both actions happened in the past, but we want to say “exercise” happened first.

He exercised first, then he felt tired.

“Exercise” is an action, so we should use past perfect continuous.

Past perfect continuous happened before past simple.

State verbs

State verbs in English are unusual, because we don’t normally use them in continuous tenses.

Most state verbs are related to your opinions or thinking, for example:

  • like
  • love
  • know
  • understand
  • dislike

This is a useful list of common state verbs in English.

Past perfect or past perfect continuous practice exercises

Choose past perfect or past perfect continuous to complete these sentences.

To make it easier:

  • if the sentence talks about “how many” – use past perfect
  • if the sentence talks about “how long” – use past perfect continuous
  • if the sentence talks about a finished action before past simple, use past perfect
  • if the sentence talks about an ongoing action before past simple, use past perfect continuous

Check your answers at the bottom of the page. Good luck!

1.

Slide1

2.Slide2

3.Slide3

4.

Slide4

5.Slide5

Answers:

1

had been working

Because we’re talking about “how long”

2

had finished

Because we’re talking about a result (finished!)

3

had been looking

Because we’re talking about an ongoing action

4

had walked

Because we’re talking about “how many times”

5

had known

Because “know” is a state verb, so we don’t use a continuous tense

Do you feel better about using the past perfect and past perfect continuous?

Leave a comment or ask a question below if you’re not sure. Asking questions is the best way to improve!

While you’re here, check out the difference between past simple and past continuous. When you’ve mastered the difference between these tenses, your English story-telling skills will be at an EXPERT level!

Find more English exercises on my Facebook page

Practice more English grammar here

One Comment on “Past perfect or past perfect continuous?

  1. Pingback: Learn English – how to talk about the past and tell stories – Learn English. Go anywhere.

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