Past Perfect Continuous

We use the past perfect continuous to talk about activities which started before other events in the past. Past perfect continuous refers to something ongoing in the past and we often focus on the length of this activity, rather than just the fact of it happening.

Analyse the example below:

We had been arguing for an hour before reaching a compromise.

We use the past perfect continuous to stress that the arguing happened before reaching the compromise. Moreover, we focus on the progressive aspect of the activity – it’s important that it had been going on for some time before the compromise was reached.

Positive sentences

To form past perfect continuous sentences we use the past form of the auxiliary verb “have”, followed by the past participle form of “be” and the “-ing” form of the main verb.

Subject + had + been + -ing

We had been looking for a parking space for 20 minutes when we finally found a free spot.
Our company’s revenue had been growing for several months before the financial crisis.
Sue had been working in IT for five years before joining our company.

Negative Sentences
To form negative sentences in the past perfect continuous we use the negative form of the auxiliary verb.

Subject + had not (hadn’t) + been + “-ing”

I hadn’t been waiting for a long time before they came.
They hadn’t been working there for five months before the company went bankrupt.

To form past perfect continuous questions we put the auxiliary verb before the subject

Had + subject + been + “-ing”

Had she been writing her report for more than an hour when you talked to her?
Had they been discussing the new product?