Saturday, 9 April 2011


How do we make the Past Perfect Continuous Tense?

The structure of the past perfect continuous tense is:
subject + auxiliary verb HAVE + auxiliary verb BE + main verb

conjugated in simple past tense
past participle
present participle
had been base + ing
For negative sentences in the past perfect continuous tense, we insert not after the first auxiliary verb. For question sentences, we exchange the subject and first auxiliary verb. Look at these example sentences with the past perfect continuous tense:
subject auxiliary verb
auxiliary verb main verb
+ I had been working.
+ You had been playing tennis.
- It had not been working well.
- We had not been expecting her.
? Had you been drinking?
? Had they been waiting long?
When speaking with the past perfect continuous tense, we often contract the subject and first auxiliary verb:
I had been I'd been
you had been you'd been
he had
she had been
it had been
he'd been
she'd been
it'd been
we had been we'd been
they had been they'd been

How do we use the Past Perfect Continuous Tense?

The past perfect continuous tense is like the past perfect tense, but it expresses longer actions in the pastpast. For example: before another action in the
  • Ram started waiting at 9am. I arrived at 11am. When I arrived, Ram had been waiting for two hours.
Ram had been waiting for two hours when I arrived.
past present future
Ram starts waiting in past at 9am.
9 11

I arrive in past at 11am.
Here are some more examples:
  • John was very tired. He had been running.
  • I could smell cigarettes. Somebody had been smoking.
  • Suddenly, my car broke down. I was not surprised. It had not been running well for a long time.
  • Had the pilot been drinking before the crash?
You can sometimes think of the past perfect continuous tense like the present perfect continuous tense, but instead of the time being now the time is past.
past perfect continuous tense present perfect continuous tense
had |
been |
doing |
>>>> |

have |
been |
doing |
>>>> |

past now future past now future
For example, imagine that you meet Ram at 11am. Ram says to you:
  • "I am angry. I have been waiting for two hours."
Later, you tell your friends:
  • "Ram was angry. He had been waiting for two hours."


    Verb Meanings with Continuous Tenses

    There are some verbs that we do not normally use in the continuous tense. And there are other verbs that we use in the simple tense with one meaning and in the continuous tense with another meaning.
    In this lesson we look at various uses of continuous tenses, followed by a quiz to check your understanding: 
    Verbs not Used with Continuous Tenses
    There are some verbs that we do not normally use with continuous tenses. We usually use the following verbs with simple tenses only (not continuous tenses):
  • hate, like, love, need, prefer, want, wish
  • believe, imagine, know, mean, realize, recognize, remember, suppose, understand
  • belong, concern, consist, contain, depend, involve, matter, need, owe, own, possess
  • appear, resemble, seem,
  • hear, see
Here are some examples:
I want a coffee. not I am wanting a coffee.
I don't believe you are right. not I am not believing you are right.
Does this pen belong to you? not Is this pen belonging to you?
It seemed wrong. not It was seeming wrong.
I don't hear anything. not I am not hearing anything.
Notice that we often use can + see/hear:
  • I can see someone in the distance.
    (not I am seeing someone in the distance.)
  • I can't hear you very well.
    (not I am not hearing you very well.)
Some verbs have two different meanings or senses. For one sense we must use a simple tense. For the other sense we can use a continuous or simple tense.
For example, the verb to think has two different senses:
  1. to believe, to have an opinion
    I think red is a sexy colour.
  2. to reflect, to use your brain to solve a problem
    I am thinking about my homework.
In sense 1 there is no real action, no activity. This sense is called "stative". In sense 2 there is a kind of action, a kind of activity. This sense is called "dynamic".
When we use the stative sense, we use a simple tense. When we use the dynamic sense, we can use a simple or continuous tense, depending on the situation.
Look at the examples in the table below:
Stative sense
(no real action)
Dynamic sense
(a kind of action)
Simple only Continuous Simple
I think she is beautiful. Be quiet. I'm thinking. I will think about this problem tomorrow.
I don't consider that he is the right man for the job. We are considering your job application and will give you our answer in a few days. We consider every job application very carefully.
This table measures 4 x 6 feet. She is measuring the room for a new carpet. A good carpenter measures his wood carefully.
Does the wine taste good? I was tasting the wine when I dropped the glass. I always taste wine before I drink it.
Mary has three children. Please phone later. We are having dinner now. We have dinner at 8pm every day.

Be and Continuous Tenses

The verb be can be an auxiliary verb (Marie is learning English) or a main verb (Marie is French). On this page we look at the verb be as a main verb.
Usually we use simple tenses with the verb be as a main verb. For example, we say:
  • London is the capital of the UK.
    (not London is being the capital of the UK.)
  • Is she beautiful?
    (not Is she being beautiful?)
  • Were you late?
    (not Were you being late?)
Sometimes, however, we can use the verb be with a continuous tense. This is when the real sense of the verb be is "act" or "behave". Also, of course, the action is temporary. Compare the examples in the table below:
Mary is a careful person. (Mary is always careful - it's her nature.) John is being careful. (John is acting carefully now, but maybe he is not always careful - we don't know.)
Is he always so stupid? (Is that his personality?) They were being really stupid. (They were behaving really stupidly at that moment.)
Andrew is not usually selfish. (It is not Andrew's character to be selfish.) Why is he being so selfish? (Why is he acting so selfishly at the moment?)
Notice that we also make a difference between "to be sick" and "to be being sick":
  • She is sick (= she is not well)
  • She is being sick (= she is vomiting)

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