Using the Past Perfect Continuous Tense with Examples

We use the past perfect continuous tense to express events or actions that started prior to a time in the past and were in progress up to that time in the past.

Grammatical Structure:

+ been + present participle (i.e. verb+ing)

They had been playing all day when I got there

When is it used?

A good way of understanding it is to compare it to the present perfect continuous. The present perfect continuous expresses an action that began in the past and has continued up to the present / at the time of speaking.

  • She has been playing in the park for hours (so she is still playing)

However, the past perfect continuous expresses that all this happened in the past. So imagine it's now later in the day, and you are relaying this same information back to someone else:

  • When I arrived at the park, she had been playing for hours 

It's commonly used with the past simple. The example above shows you it is used with "when I arrived at the park".

It's also expressing the fact that one event happened before another event:

  • Event 1: she had been playing
  • Event 2: I arrived at the park

This can also be illustrated well in a time line:

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Timeline

Forming the Past Perfect Continuous Tense


  • They had been playing soccer for two hours before it started raining.
  • She had been studying French for six months when she finally took a trip to Paris.


  • I had not been studying English for very long before I moved to an English-speaking country.
  • They had not been practicing the piano regularly, so they struggled during the recital.

Yes/No Questions

  • Had you been working on this project before it got canceled?
  • Had they been living in that house for many years before they decided to sell it?

Long Form Questions

  • How long had you been studying for the exam before the power outage disrupted your preparation?
  • Where had she been working before she joined the new company?

Common Past Perfect Time Expressions

These are some common time expressions used with the past perfect continuous tense. 


  • We had been waiting in line for hours when the store finally opened its doors.


  • They had been playing tennis for 15 minutes but then it started raining.


  • She had been living there since 2014 but she was happy when she moved out.


  • We had been waiting in line at the amusement park for over an hour before the ride broke down.

More Examples of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense


  • They had been traveling around Europe for three months before they returned home.
  • She had been studying for the exam all night, so she felt exhausted the next morning.
  • The children had been playing outside for hours when it started to rain.
  • He had been working on the project diligently, but he still couldn't finish it on time.
  • The team had been practicing their dance routine for weeks before the competition.


  • I had not been exercising regularly, so I was out of breath after climbing just a few flights of stairs.
  • They had not been paying attention during the lecture, so they missed important information.
  • She had not been taking care of her diet, which is why she gained weight.
  • We had not been saving money, so we had to borrow to cover unexpected expenses.
  • He had not been studying for the test, so he was unprepared and got a low score.
  • The employees had not been following safety protocols, leading to accidents in the workplace.

Yes/No Questions

  • Had you been practicing the guitar before you performed at the concert?
  • Had they been working on the project together when they decided to split up?
  • Before she moved to the countryside, had she been living in the city?
  • Had you been learning Spanish for long when you traveled to Mexico?
  • Had he been exercising regularly before he injured his leg?

Long Form Questions

  • How long had they been living in the apartment before they decided to move out?
  • Where had she been working when she got promoted to a managerial position?
  • Who had you been talking to on the phone before the call got disconnected?
  • Why had he not been practicing his speech before he delivered it at the conference?
  • How long had the construction workers been building the bridge when it was opened to the public?

Test yourself in these past continuous tense quizzes:

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