Past perfect continuous: Grammar & practice exercises

by Johnny Jacks

The past perfect continuous is a fundamental tense in English grammar. This blend of theory and exercises establishes a strong understanding.

Theory of the past perfect continuous:

Understand the definitions, formulas, usage, and key indicators of the past perfect continuous in the theory section. This understanding facilitates effective application in exercises.

Definition of the past perfect continuous:

The Past Perfect Continuous describes an event or action that occurred and was ongoing in the past, concluding before another event or action. All actions terminate in the past.

Formula for the past perfect continuous tense:

The standard structure of the past perfect continuous (Past Perfect Continuous):







Main verb

use the past simple tense

past participle



present participle


The first auxiliary verb (have) is conjugated in the past simple, remaining as “had.”

The second auxiliary verb (be) remains fixed in the past participle “been.”

The main verb remains fixed in the present participle “V_ing.”

For negative sentences, “not” is added after the first auxiliary verb.

For interrogative sentences, the subject and the first auxiliary verb are switched.

Detailed formulas for the 4 types of sentences:

Type of sentence




S + had + been + V-ing +…

My sister had been crying for 15 minutes before my mother came home.


S + had + not + been + V-ing

He had not been working in the office when the phone rang.

Questionable form

Had + S + been + V-ing +… ?

Had you been doing homework before returning home?

Wh – question

Wh – question + had + S + been + V-ing?

What is the purpose of using the past perfect continuous?

The usages of the Past Perfect Continuous are as follows:

  1. Expressing an action that occurred before another action in the past, emphasizing continuity.

For instance: Mary had been talking about that before you mentioned it. (Mary talked about that before you mentioned it).

  1. Indicating that an action was the cause of something happening in the past.

For example: Tom failed the final test because he hadn’t been attending class. (Tom failed the final exam because he didn’t go to school.)

  1. Describing an action that took place continuously before another event in the past.

For example: The couple had been quarreling for 2 hours before their son came back home. (The couple argued for 2 hours before their son came home.)

  1. Expressing something that happened as preparation for another event.

For example: My daughter had been practicing for 6 months and was ready for the examination. (My daughter has been practicing for 6 months and is ready for the exam.)

  1. Referring to an action that took place continuously before a specified time in the past.

For instance: My father had been walking for 2 hours before 5 pm yesterday. (My father walked for 2 hours before 5pm yesterday.)

  1. Emphasizing an action that resulted in the past.

For example: Yesterday morning, she was exhausted because she had been studying for the exam all night. (Yesterday morning, she was exhausted from studying for the exam all night.)

  1. Used in conditional sentences type 3 to express an unreal situation in the past.

For instance: I would have been more confident if I had been preparing better. (I would be more confident if I prepared better).

The distinctive indicators of the past perfect continuous

The past perfect continuous can be identified through various indicators, such as:

  1. Until then.

Example: Until then, I had been working. (Until then, I was still working).

  1. By the time (before, at the time).

Example: By the time my mom came home, I had been doing homework. (By the time my mother got home, I was doing my homework.)

  1. By + specific timeline (from before until…).

Example: By 4pm, she had been watching TV for 5 hours. (By 4 p.m., she had been watching TV for 5 hours.)

  1. Prior to that time.

Example: Prior to that time, the government had always been controlling the problem. (Before that time, the government was always in control.)

Conjugating verbs in the past perfect continuous

In the structure of the past perfect continuous, it is crucial to understand how to conjugate both the auxiliary verbs and the main verbs in sentences. Here are the details:

How to combine auxiliary verbs:


Subject – Personal pronoun

How to divide


I, you (singular)

had been


We, you, they (Plural)

had been


He, she, it (singular)

had been

To conjugate the main verb in the past perfect continuous tense, you should add the suffix ‘ing’ to the end of the main verb in the sentence according to the following rules:

Verb form

How to divide


Ends with (-e)

Remove (-e) add (-ing)

take => taking

Ends with a consonant (-ie)

Change (-ie) => (y) + (ing)

die => dying

Ends with 1 vowel + 1 consonant and has 1 syllable

Double the final consonant and add (-ing)

see => seeing

agree => agreeing

Verbs with more than 2 syllables and the stress on the last syllable

Double the final consonant and add (-ing)

prefer => preferring

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Exercises WITH ANSWERS

Below is a set of exercises categorized from basic to advanced, aimed at helping you practice the past perfect continuous tense. Use the provided answers to check your progress.

Synthesize over 50 sentences of verb conjugation in the past perfect continuous tense:

I. Complete the following sentences using the past perfect continuous for the verbs in brackets.

  1. I had been working all day, so I didn’t want to go out.
  2. She had been sleeping for ten hours when I woke her.
  3. They had been living in Beijing for three years when he lost his job.
  4. When we met, you had been working at that company for six months.
  5. We had been eating all day, so we felt a bit ill.
  6. He was red in the face because he had been running.
  7. It had been raining and the road was covered in water.
  8. I was really tired because I had been studying.
  9. We had been going out for three years when we got married.
  10. It had been snowing for three days.
  11. Mrs. Sally had been teaching English for thirty years before she retired.
  12. My grandpa had been sleeping for three hours when I woke him up.
  13. A young boy had been standing at the door until a policeman arrived.
  14. Daniel had not been working for months before he was offered a management position.
  15. My father had been trying to fix the broken pipe for an hour before we eventually called a plumber.
  16. The baby had been crying for fifteen minutes before her mother heard her cry.
  17. How long had Dan been driving before he fell asleep and had an accident?
  18. How long had you been teaching before you were offered this position?
  19. They had been chatting for over 2 hours.
  20. I had been waiting there for ages.
  21. Brianna had been sitting there for 20 minutes before the doctor called her name.
  22. You had been working there for several years before you quit your job.
  23. They had been jogging for a while before they got tired.
  24. I had been waiting for the bus for 10 minutes when it arrived.
  25. She wanted to rest a bit because she had been cleaning the whole day.
  26. They decided to break up because they had been fighting for a long time.
  27. Alex had been playing golf for many years before he retired.
  28. Susan was hungry because she had been fasting the whole day.
  29. Peter had been drinking too much, so he had to run to the bathroom a lot.
  30. Anna failed the exam because she had been skipping classes.
  31. I had been working on my book for a year when I published it.
  32. You had passed the test because you had been studying very well.
  33. We bought the house after we had been saving for many years.
  34. The receptionist had been accepting the applications for the interview.
  35. The delivery boy had not delivered the parcel on time at the destination.
  36. Ben had always been nodding in front of his teacher in his lecture.
  37. Did Thomas’s friends always annoy him in school?
  38. They had not been enjoying much because of their friend’s absence.
  39. The stored water had been overflowing above the dam in the rainy season.
  40. When I saw him, he had been begging near the traffic signal on the highway.
  41. She had not been mixing the water in the milk to give to the customers.
  42. Her brother always protected her from intruders.
  43. They had not been calculating the overall budget of the party last night.
  44. We had been including another chopper in our artillery.
  45. Had he been suffering from fever due to the change in the climate?
  46. I had changed the freewheel of this machine yesterday.
  47. She had not been explaining anything to anyone about the incident.
  48. John had rejected the job offer of the MNC in Cambridge.


1. had been working

2. had been sleeping

3. had been living

4. had been working

5. had been eating

6. had been running

7. had been raining

8. had been studying

9. had been going

10. had been snowing

11. had been teaching

12. had been sleeping

13. had been standing

14. had not been working

15. had been trying

16. had been crying

17. had Dan been driving

18. had you been teaching

19. had been chatting

20. had been waiting

21. had been sitting; called

22. had been working; quit

23. had been jogging; got

24. had been waiting; arrived

25. wanted; had been cleaning

26. decided; had been fighting

27. had been playing; retired

28. was; had been fasting

29. had been drinking; had

30. failed; had been skipping

31. had been working; published

32. passed; had been studying

33. bought; had been saving

34. had been accepting

35. hadn’t been delivering

36. had always been nodding

37. Had … always annoying

38. had not been enjoying

39. had been overflowing

40. had been begging

41. hadn’t been mixing

42. had always been protecting

43. hadn’t been calculating

44. had been including

45. had he been suffering

46. had been changing

47. hadn’t been explaining

48.  had been rejecting

30+ past perfect continuous multiple choice exercises

II. Choose the correct answer.

1. My dad ________ smoking in the garage.

A. has

B. had

C. had been

2. The printer ________ working well.

A. had not been

B. hadn’t

C. had not

3. Had the players _____ playing by the rules?

A. been

B. have

C. be

4. She ________ expecting the worst.

A. had

B. ‘d been

C. had being

5. Had the teachers ________ before the strike?

A. been work

B. working

C. been working

6. Our pool pump ________ running properly before the storm.

A. had not have

B. hadn’t been

C. hadn’t being

7. My sister’s roommate was upset. She _____ been waiting for an hour.

A. had

B. has

C. have

8. I just heard about the accident. ________ been working all night?

A. Had the driver

B. Had the driving

V. Have the driver

9. We were shocked to see her. ________ been expecting her.

A. We are

B. We have

C. We’d not

10. I finally reached my mom. ________ her all day.

A. I’d been calling

B. I have called

C. I called

11. Bruno and Marcela met at a medical assembly, which Marcela ______ _______ ________ for a long time.

A. was attending

B. has been attending

C. have been attending

D. had been attending

12. Keyla _______ _________ ________ for two hours before she arrived.

A. was driving

B. has been driving

C. had been driven

D. had been driving

13. Carlos _________ _________ ___________ all day, so he had a headache.

A. had worked

B. was working

C. has been working

D. had been working

14. What are the auxiliary verbs of the past perfect continuous tense?

A. has been

B. had been

C. was being

D. have been

15. What do we need to add to the main verb in the Past perfect continuous tense?

A. -s

B. -ed

C. -er

D. -ing

16. Priscilla _______ _______ information about an accident for two days, when the thief stole her notes.

A. had gathered

B. was gathering

C. had been gathered

D. had been gathering

17. Timothy _____ ______ _______ networking courses for two years when he was promoted to be a coach.

A. had taken

B. had been taking

C. have been taking

D. could have taken

18. My scores in high school _________ ________ ___________ until I made an effort to study more.

A. couldn’t be improved

B. hadn’t been improving

C. haven’t been improving

D. wouldn’t have improved

19. Joan’s grandpa was upset. He … for an hour.

A. had been waiting

B. had waited

C. had been waited

D. had been wait

20. I just heard about the accident. … been working all night?

A. The driver had

B. Had the driver

C. Had the driving

D. Had the driven

21. When we had been doing the tour of the city we ………. to go and eat in a local restaurant.

A. was deciding

B. had decided

C. decided

D. had been deciding

22. We had been driving for nearly 100 kilometres before we finally ………. a service station we could stop at.

A. had being found

B. had found

C. found

D. had been finding

23. Mandy was exhausted by the time she went on holiday because she … over 55 hours a week.

A. works

B. worked

C. had been working

D. had worked

24. The flat was lovely and tidy because my flatmate ….

A. had cleaned

B. was cleaning

C. had been cleaning

D. had been cleaned

25. Paul and Debbie fought over a serious problem. They … on well for some time.

A. had been getting

B. had gotten

C. had not been getting

D. had not gotten

26. When you got sick, … enough?

A. you had eaten

B. you had been eating

C. had you eaten

D. had you been eating

27. The line is busy. Mandy ___________________________ on the phone for hours.

A. talked

B. has talked

C. has been talking

D. had been talking

28. The house was perfect for him – it was exactly what he ….for.

A. had been looking

B. is looking

C. looks

D. have been looking

29. James ….medicine for years when he realized he didn’t wan to be a doctor.

A. was studying

B. studied

C. has studied

D. had been studying

30. Once Sally saw me , I …….for 3 hours.

A. had gardened

B. had been gardening

31. Martha …………….. three miles a day before she broke her leg.

A. walked

B. is walking

C. has been walking

D. had been walking


1. C; 2. A; 3. A; 4. B; 5. C;

6. B; 7. A; 8. A; 9. C; 10. A;

11. D; 12. D; 13. D; 14. B; 15. D

16. C; 17. B; 18. B; 19. A; 20. B

21. D; 22. D; 23. C; 24. C; 25. A

26. D; 27. C; 28. A; 29. D; 30. B; 31. D

Above is the complete knowledge of the past perfect continuous, as recommended by professional English teachers. Please refer to and practice the provided exercises to enhance your proficiency!

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