Distinguish between the past perfect and the past perfect continuous

by Johnny Jacks
Spend 5 minutes with Goodheathplan.com to quickly differentiate between the past perfect and past perfect continuous tenses based on 3 criteria: formula, usage, and identification signs. Then, put your understanding to the test with some exercises!

Formula for Past Perfect and Past Perfect Continuous:

Sentence type

Past Perfect Tense

(Past Perfect)

Past perfect continuous

(Past Perfect Continuous)

verb tobe

Confirm

S + had been + Adj/ Noun + O

Mary had been a great dancer when she was a student.

(Mary was already a good dancer when she was a student.)

S + had + been + V_ing + O

When I looked out of the window, it had been raining.

(When I looked out the window, it was still raining.)

Negative

S + hadn’t been + Adj/ Noun + O

Mary hadn’t been a great dancer when she was a student.

(Mary wasn’t a very good dancer when she was a student.)

S + hadn’t + been + V_ing + O

When I looked out of the window, it hadn’t been raining.

(When I looked out the window, it was no longer raining.)

Doubts

Had + S + been + O?

Had Mary been a great dancer when she was a student?

(Was Mary a good dancer when she was a student?)

Had + S + been + V_ing + O?

Had it been raining when you came here?

(Was it still raining when you got here?)

WH-question

WH-q + S + had been + O?

How Mary had been a great dancer when she was a student?

(How was Mary a good dancer when she was a student?)

WH-word + had + S + been + V-ing +…?

S + had + been + V-ing…

How long had it been raining before I woke up?

(How long did it rain before I woke up?)

Regular verbs

Confirm

S + had + PII + O

I had done my work before I exercised.

(I finished the work before the workout)

Negative

S + hadn’t + PII + O

I hadn’t done my work before I exercised.

(I haven’t finished my pre-workout work yet)

Doubts

Had + S + PII + O ?

Had you done your work before you played games?

(Have you finished your pre-game work?)

WH-question

WH-q + had + S + PII + O?

Why hadn’t you done work before you played games?

(Why don’t you finish the work before playing the game?)

How to use past perfect and perfect continuous

No.

Past Perfect Tense

Past perfect continuous

1

Describe an action that happened before another action in the past. (emphasis on results of actions).

When I got up this morning, my father had already left.

(When I woke up in the morning, my father was out.)

Describe an action that happened before another action in the past. (emphasizing continuity of action)

I had been thinking about that before you mentioned it.

(I always thought about that before you mentioned it.)

2

Usually used to describe an action before a specific time in the past.

We had lived in Hue before 1975.

(We lived here before 1975).

Describes an action that has just happened and continues until the second action takes place. (The second action uses the past simple). Usually, the time period is stated in the sentence.

The men had been playing cards for 3 hours when I came.

(The man was playing cards continuously for 3 hours when I arrived).

3

Used in conditional sentences type 3

If I had known that you were there, I would have written you a letter.

(If I knew you were there, I would write you a letter.)

4

Used in the structure of unreal wishes in the past

I wish I had had more time to study and I would pass.

(I wish I had more time to study and I would pass).

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Signs to identify the past perfect and perfect continuous

Students can identify 2 past perfect and perfect continuous through the following conjunctions:

Past Perfect Tense

Past perfect continuous

When: when, at

By the time: at the time

Until: until

Before: before, before

After: after, after

Since: since, when

For: within, while

How long: how long

Exercises to distinguish past perfect and perfect continuous

Exercise 1: Give the correct form of the verbs in brackets

1: He…………..(marry) her two years before we met.

2: James told me you…………..(buy) the old vicarage two years before your son’s birth.

3: I wish we………………..(buy) had bought it before.

4: When I arrived at the station, the train……………………..(leave).

5: He…………..(play) tennis for 4 hours when he broke his leg.

6: The dog came into the house once she…………..(finish) the housework.

7: He…………..(drive) his car for 10 minutes when he realized it had a flat tire.

8: She…………..(throw) the letter away when she noticed it was not important.

9: He…………..(swim) for 15 minutes when he understood he had lost his swimsuit.

10: It…………..(rain) for one hour when the wind started to blow.

11: He rushed to the baker’s when he saw his wife…………..(forget) buy some bread.

12: Sarah was exhausted. She…………..(wash) the dishes for more than three hours.

13: When he saw her, he knew he…………..(meet) her before.

14: When he phoned her, she…………..(go) out.

15: When Ron arrived, the party……………………..(already/begin).

16: The children……………………..(already/go) to bed when their mother came from work.

17: If I………………..(not/be) absent yesterday, I would have met him.

18: I was very tired when I arrived home. I…………..(work) hard all day.

19: When I arrived at the party, Tom wasn’t there. He…………..(go) home.

20: When we got home last night, we found that somebody……………………..(break) into the flat.

Exercise 2: Give the correct form of the verbs in brackets to complete the sentences

1. Mike ________ his friends before he went abroad for two months. (visit)

2. Paul ________ his car for two days before he called the mechanic. (repair)

3. Pamela ________ for two hours before her boyfriend arrived. (dance)

4. Melany ________ her house by the time the guests arrived. (clean)

5. My brother ________ before I felt angry with him. (apologize)

6. The athletes ________ around the stadium for some time before they were stopped by their coach. (run)

7. The pirates ________ before the rescue team arrived. (escape)

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8. The sales manager ________ the advantages of his product for about half an hour before I agreed to buy some samples. (describe)

9. I ________ before my alarm clock rang. (wake up)

10. The kids ________ a lot of mess before their mother came back home from work. (make)

11. The teacher ________ our dictations for several minutes by the time the bell rang. (correct)

12. Susan ________ her thesis for two months before her supervisor told her that she was on the wrong path. (work over)

13. You ________ the party by the time everything happened. (leave)

14. Jack ________ online games for an hour before I came. (play)

15. The new students ________ in the classroom for 15 minutes before they realized that it was the wrong classroom. (wait)

Lesson 3: Arrange the words correctly to complete the sentences

1 you / went / eaten / Had / you / breakfast / out / before / ?

…………………….

2 long / They / bus / waiting / the / hadn’t / arrived / been / when

…………………….

3 been / swimming / because / just / was / he / cold / he’d

…………………….

4 before / London / he / living / to / Where / he / had / been / moved / ?

…………………….

5 so / expected / presents / get / hadn’t / She / to / many

…………………….

6 before / for / long / married / they / dating / they / Had / been / got / ?

…………………….

Exercise 4: Complete the second sentence with the past perfect so that the meaning is the same

1. It was months since he’d played tennis.

He ………….. for months.

2. She ate her dinner and then went to bed.

After she …………………….., she went to bed.

3. Zoe saved for ages and then bought a new watch.

Zoe …………………………………………………….. before she bought a new watch.

4. Eric broke his arm so he couldn’t go to school.

Eric couldn’t go to school ……………………..

5. We sat in the park for an hour and then it got dark.

By the time it ……………………

Exercise 5: Fill in the blanks with suitable words to complete the passage

date enjoy find not imagine live star think

Jennifer Lawrence was born in the United States in 1990. Once, before she became famous, she 1…………….. about being a doctor and 2…………….. that she’d ever become an actress. That changed when she was fourteen. She 3…………….. a spring break with her parents when a stranger spotted her and asked to do a screen test. Then things progressed fast. Not long after she 4…………….. work in commercials for MTV, she appeared in a TV series. Her family 5…………….. in Kentucky for many years, but they moved to Los Angeles when her career took off. Two years before filming The Hunger Games in 2012, she 6…………….. in Winter’s Bone and was nominated for an Oscar. She 7…………….. Nicholas Hoult, her co-star from X-Men, for two years when they split up in 2013.

Exercise 6: Give the correct form of the verb to complete the passage

Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zaidan 1…………………… (make) films for years before they took over the organization of the Oscars ceremony in 2012. In fact, they 2…………………… ………… (win) an Academy award themselves – for the musical Chicago. Once they 3…………. (accept) the job, they set about giving the event a facelift. They felt that the winners 4……………… (take) too long to get to the microphone in recent years, which meant that the ceremony 5……………… (become ) tedious. They changed the seating arrangements and they also tried to make the show more entertaining. A good example of this was with a mid-show pizza delivery during the 2014 ceremony. Meron and Zaiden 6…………………… (worry) about this moment since the host 7……………… (suggest) it to them. They were relieved when it was over as they 8…………………… (not tell) the delivery boy he would be on the Oscars, so they didn’t know how he would react.

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Answers to exercises

Lesson 1:

1. had married

2. had bought

3. had bought

4. had left

5. Had been playing

6. had finished

7. Had been driving

8. had thrown

9. had been swimming

10. had been raining

11. had forgotten

12. had been washing

13. had met

14. had gone

15. had already begun

16. had already gone

17. hadn’t been

18. had been working

19. had gone

20. had broken

Lesson 2:

1. had visited

2. had been repairing

3. had been dancing

4. had cleaned

5. had apologized

6. had been running

7. had escaped

8. had been describing

9. had woken up

10. had made

11. had been correcting

12. had been working over

13. had left

14. had been playing

15. had been waiting

Lesson 3:

1. Had you eaten breakfast before you went out?

2. They hadn’t been waiting long when the bus arrived.

3. He was cold because he’d just been swimming.

4. Where had he been living before he moved to London?

5. She hadn’t expected to get so many presents.

6. Had they been dating for long before they got married?

Lesson 4:

1. hadn’t played tennis

2. had eaten her dinner

3. had been saved for ages

4. because he had broken his arm.

5. got dark, we had been sitting

6. had never visited / had not visited

Lesson 5:

1. had thought

2. hadn’t imagined

3. had been enjoying

4. had found

5. had been living

6. had starred

7. had been dating

Lesson 6:

1. had been making

2. had won

3. had accepted

4. had been taking

5. had become

6. had been worried

7. had suggested

8. hadn’t told

The past perfect and the past perfect continuous are two relatively difficult tenses in tense grammar. Therefore, you need to carefully read the 3 differences mentioned in the above article, then practice the exercises to master the knowledge!

Wish you all good study!

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