Past Perfect Continuous Tense – Definition and Concept

We have already defined the tense of the verb as the time of occurrence or execution of the verb with respect to the time of making the statement. One of the three tenses of the verb is the Past tense, which is further classified into four types.

The Past Perfect Continuous tense is that tense of the verb which is used when the verb has partially occurred before or shows partial execution and continuity before the time in which the statement is being made. A few examples below:

  • The union had been meeting these days.
  • She had been performing to her potential.
  • I had been expecting a full house at the multiplex.

In this article, we explore this tense in detail.

At the end of this article, the reader should be able to:

  • Understand the basic idea of Past Perfect Continuous Tense
  • Understand Subject-Verb agreement for the Past Perfect Continuous Tense
  • Understand the influence of auxiliaries and modals on Subject-Verb agreement
  • Study Past Perfect Continuous Tense in the Passive Voice
  • Study the interrogative form of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense
  • Study the negative form of the Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

As we’ve discussed above, the Past Perfect Continuous tense is that tense of the verb which is used when the verb has partially occurred or shows partial execution and continuity before the time of the statement. Let us take a few more examples to understand the idea:

  • The board had been suspecting that you’re delusional.
  • I had been coming the dormitory quite a few times today.
  • The guests had been staying at the apartment.
  • Had you been coming here today?

In each of the examples, we note how the verb shows the state of action or being of the noun or pronoun as partially executed before the time of the statement. Thus all of the verbs in these examples are in the Past Perfect Continuous Tense.

Subject Verb Agreement (Noun-Verb agreement)

In the Past Perfect Continuous Tense, Subject-Verb agreement is where we learn the general form of the verb for different nouns and pronouns. Since we have three persons (first, second and third) and two numbers (singular and plural) we study the different forms of the verb for all the six combinations:

First Person

  • I had been coming to your place. (First person singular)
  • I had been taking all the readings today. (First person singular)
  • We had been presenting our arguments. (First person plural)
  • We had been anticipating a big contest here. (First person plural)

In each of the examples above, we see that the Past Perfect Continuous tense of verbs usually take the Present participle form of the verb along with the past participle been of the auxiliary be, with the same form for both singular and plural first person pronouns, apart from the auxiliary had.

First Person Singular form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (had) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Pronoun + modal + root form of auxiliary (have) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

First Person Plural form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (had) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Pronoun + modal + root form of auxiliary (have) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Second Person

  • You had been seeing a therapist.
  • You had been taking the lead.
  • Had you been completing the targets today?

In each of the examples above, we see that the Past Perfect Continuous tense of verbs usually take the Present participle form of the verb, with the same form for both singular and plural second person pronouns, along with the plural form of the auxiliary.

Second Person Singular form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (had) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Pronoun + modal + root form of auxiliary (have) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Second Person Plural form:

Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (had) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Pronoun + modal + root form of auxiliary (have) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Third Person

Nouns are generally in the third person, while pronouns can be of all persons. So nouns take the same form of the verb as third person pronouns. Examples include:

  • He had been emerging as a spin bowler for the national side. (Third person singular pronoun)
  • It had been growing all over the place. (Third person singular pronoun)
  • They had been bringing the party home this week. (Third person plural pronoun)
  • The Dalai Lama had been residing in India. (Singular noun)
  • These machines had been processing 35 bottles per minute. (Plural noun)

In each of the examples above, we see that the Past Perfect Continuous tense of verbs usually take the present participle form of the verb, with the same form for both singular and plural third person pronouns and nouns, apart from the auxiliary.

Third Person Singular form:

Noun/Pronoun + singular present form of auxiliary (had) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Noun/Pronoun + modal + root form of auxiliary (have) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Third Person Plural form:

Noun/Pronoun + plural present form of auxiliary (had) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Noun/Pronoun + modal + root form of auxiliary (have) + been + Present Participle form of Verb

Auxiliaries & Modals – Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Auxiliaries and modals have the same function in a sentence: assist the verb. While auxiliaries change with the tense of the verb, modals do not.

Auxiliaries

Different forms of the auxiliary have are used with the Present participle verb across all forms of nouns and pronouns. We have already understood these forms in the previous section. Let us study these forms in particular now.

  • I had been taken the readings now. (First person singular taking plural past form had)
  • We had been anticipated a big contest. (First person plural taking plural past form had)
  • You had been taking the lead. (Second person taking plural past form had)
  • It had been growing all over the place. (Third person singular taking singular past form had)
  • They had been bringing the party home this week. (Third person plural taking plural past form had)
  • The manager had been trying to leave the company. (Singular noun taking singular past form had)
  • The board members had been putting together a merger acquisition proposal. (Plural noun taking plural past form had)

The auxiliary verb had is conjoined with the past participle form been to make the Past Perfect part. The Present Participle form of the main verb makes it continuous.

Modals [1]

Modals however can be used to enhance the meaning of the verb. Upon using a modal with the verb in the Past Perfect Continuous form, the auxiliary verb is reduced to its root form have.

Let us take a few examples:

  • The board has been suspecting that you’re delusional.
  • I have been coming the dormitory quite a few times today.
  • The guests have been staying at the apartment.

Now, observe the effect of addition of a modal:

  • The board might have been suspecting that you’re delusional.
  • I could have been coming the dormitory quite a few times today.
  • The guests may have been staying at the apartment.

Each of these modals effectively reduces the auxiliary to the root form have. Hence we have different rules for Past Perfect Continuous tense with the inclusion of modals.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense in Passive Voice [2]

A sentence or a verb is in active voice when the subject is the executioner of the verb, while passive voice is when the subject is the recipient of the verb. With a change in voice, all pronouns and nouns take different forms of the verb. We explore that in this section.

From every type of person and number, we pick one example each from the previous sections.

First Person

  • Active: I had been taking the readings now. (First person singular)
  • Passive: The readings were being taken (by me)
  • Active: We had been anticipating a big contest here. (First person plural)
  • Passive: A big contest was being anticipated (by us)

Second Person

  • Active: Had you been completing the targets this week?
  • Passive: Were the targets being completed this week?

Third Person

  • Active: These machines had been processing 35 bottles per minute. (Plural noun)
  • Passive: 35 bottles were being processed presently per minute.
  • Active: They had been bringing the party home this week. (Third person plural pronoun)
  • Passive: The party was being brought home this week.

We make the following observations:

  • The primary verb takes the Past participle form in the passive voice.
  • The number of the object/predicate (not the subject) influences the auxiliary verb in passive form.
  • The Present participle form being is added to the main verb.
  • The Past form of the auxiliary verb be is always added to the verb.

Thus the formation of the passive form of a verb in the present continuous tense would be

For all nouns/pronouns:

Noun/Pronoun + Past form of Auxiliary be (was/were) + being + Past Participle form of Verb

Interrogative Sentences in Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Here, we study the rearrangement of words of a sentence with a change in type to interrogative sentences. Let us begin with examples from the previous sections:

  • You had been taking the lead.
  • The board might have been suspecting that you’re delusional.
  • I could have been stopping by the dormitory quite a few times today.
  • The union had been meeting these days.
  • She had been performing to her potential.
  • I had been expecting a full house at the multiplex.

The above sentences make a regular statement or what we call assert. Hence these are examples of assertive sentences. Let us now put these into the interrogative form:

  • Had you been taking the lead?
  • Might the board have been suspecting that you’re delusional?
  • Could I have been stopping by the dormitory quite a few times today?
  • Had the union been meeting these days?
  • Had she been performing to her potential?
  • Had I been expecting a full house at the multiplex?

The Observations:

From the above examples, we make the following inferences:

  • The interrogative form of the sentence begins with the auxiliary verb, if the modal is absent.
  • The interrogative form of the sentence begins with the modal verb, if it is present.

Thus the different interrogative forms of assertive sentences use the following formations:

  • Auxiliary (Past form) + Subject Noun/Pronoun + been + Present Participle form of the verb (No modal)
  • Modal + Subject Noun/Pronoun + Root form of Auxiliary + been + Present Participle form of the verb (Modal Present)

Negative Sentences in the Present Perfect Continuous Tense

What happens when we change the form of assertive sentences from positive to negative form?

Let us take the examples above again:

  • You had been taking the lead.
  • The board might have been suspecting that you’re delusional.
  • I could have been coming the dormitory quite a few times today.
  • The union had been meeting these days.
  • She had been performing to her potential.
  • I had been expecting a full house at the multiplex.

When we convert them into the negative form, we get:

  • You had not been taking the lead.
  • The board might not have been suspecting that you’re delusional.
  • I could not have been coming the dormitory quite a few times today.
  • The union had not been meeting these days.
  • She had not been performing to her potential.
  • I had not been expecting a full house at the multiplex.

The Observations:

From the above examples, we make the following inferences:

  • The negative not occupies its place between the auxiliary and the main verb, if the modal is absent.
  • The negative not occupies its place between the modal and the root form of auxiliary, if the modal is present.

Thus the different interrogative forms of assertive sentences use the following formations:

  • Subject Noun/Pronoun + past form of auxiliary + not + been + Present Participle form of verb
  • Subject Noun/Pronoun + modal + not + auxiliary + been + Present Participle form of verb

Conclusion

This concludes the discussion on the Past Perfect Continuous Tense.

Notes

[1] The use of modals on verbs in the Past Tenses creates confusion about the tense of the sentence. Note the examples in the discussion on modals. The addition of a modal reduces the verb from past form to root form and thus the sentence resembles their present tense equivalent.

This means that the sentence takes the Simple Present form (with modal) if initially expressed in Simple Past form (without modal), Present Continuous form (with modal) if initially expressed in Past Continuous form (without modal), Present Perfect form (with modal) if initially expressed in Past Perfect form (without modal), and Present Perfect Continuous form (with modal) if initially expressed in Past Perfect Continuous form (without modal).

Readers can verify the above statement by comparing the section on modals of the articles on the corresponding forms of Present and Past Tense, especially the examples of sentences after the implementation of modals.

Thus in situations like these, the role of adverbs becomes quite important, as they are the determiner of the tense of these sentences. Sometimes, even after the use of adverbs, the tense of the sentence is left ambiguous. In that case, irrespective of the form of the sentence before the inclusion of modals, we identify these sentences as being in the Present Tense. The subtype of the Present Tense can thereafter be determined by the conventional methods discussed in the articles on Present Tense.

[2] The Perfect Continuous Tense is the combination of both perfect and continuous tense. In the active form, the Continuous form (Present Participle form) of the verb is joined with the Past Participle form of be (been). In the passive form, the Past participle form of the verb is joined with the Present participle form of be (being). Hence, the verb, by definition shows both completion and continuity.