Past Perfect Progressive Tense

When to use Past Perfect Progressive

  • Ongoing/unfinished things at a certain point in time in the past
    I’d been dating this girl from school when I met Lisa.
    My brother had been reading comics for a long time when he decided to draw his own story.
  • Actions that just finished before another event in the past
    The kids had been making a mess, so I had to clean up.
    It had been raining, so I had to take the car.
  • Cause and effect
    I had to retake the exam because I hadn’t been studying for the first one.
    The boy had to apologize to the neighbor because he had been playing the violin loudly.

Structure of Past Perfect Progressive Tense

Subject + had + been + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + Object

Past Perfect Progressive combines the perfect and the progressive aspect in past tense. To express the perfect aspect, we need the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ and to express progression, we need the auxiliary verb ‘to be’. The auxiliary verb ‘to have’ must be in simple past form given the past tense. ‘To have’ is always followed by the past participle of the verb. Therefore, we need to use the past participle of ‘to be’ which is ‘been’. ‘Been’ is followed by the progressive participle (-ing form) of the actual action verb as in case of all progressive tenses.

Some examples for the structure:
My dog had been acting weird for days before it got sick.
The patient had been feeling very sick when the doctor visited him.
My mom had been working very hard when she was promoted.

Take a look at the following table to review how Present Perfect Progressive is formed:

Do you remember that some verbs cannot be used in progressive tenses? To review them, click here.

Making the Past Perfect Progressive Tense negative

To create the negative form of a Past Perfect Progressive verb, you need to combine ‘not’ and the auxiliary verb ‘had’. The short form is ‘hadn’t. Remember to use the short forms in informal conversations and the long forms in a written, formal context.

Subject + had + not + been + Progressive Participle of Main Verb

He hadn’t been working on his research paper.
I hadn’t been staying up late so mom woke me up.
They hadn’t been talking for a long time when they finally made up.

Yes/No questions in Past Perfect Progressive

Questions in Past Perfect Progressive are formed by switching the auxiliary verb ‘had’ and the subject. The word order of the rest of the sentence remains unchanged. For example:

Had you been doing a presentation when she called you?
Had you been skiing when you broke your leg?

Open-ended questions in Past Perfect Progressive Tense

In case of open-ended questions, always start with the questions word. After the questions word, follow the usual word order for questions: auxiliary verb – subject – main verb – object -etc. The auxiliary verb in Past Perfect Progressive is ‘had’ which is followed by the subject.

How long had you been living in Germany before you moved here?
Who had you been living in Vienna with when you got that job offer?
Where had you been training before the new stadium was built?

Typical adverbs of Past Perfect Progressive Tense

The typical adverbs of the Present Perfect Progressive Tense are mostly the same with the typical adverbs of the Present Perfect Tense. However, the focus is always on the continuity of the action at a given moment. These adverbs are:

when, after, before, by the time, since, for

Some examples:
She’d been working to the same company for years before she got fired.
I was feeling so much better after I had been resting for a couple of days.
It had been raining since I woke up.
Before I went to bed, I had been watching Game of Thrones.


Overview of Perfect Progressive Tenses

What is the perfect progressive aspect

The perfect progressive aspect combines the perfect and progressive aspects. The progressive aspect allows the speaker to express an action that is unfinished or in progress. The perfect aspect refers to an an unfinished action that started in the past and is still happening in the present. Combining the two, the perfect progressive aspect expresses actions that started in the past, are still happening in the present and the focus is on the continuity of the action. For example, if you want to say that you started dating your boyfriend a long time ago and you’re still seeing him, that’s a perfect opportunity to use perfect progressive:

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a long time. focus is on the fact that they are still together

The same logic is true in past and future tenses. Past perfect usually expresses an action prior to another action. If you use Past Perfect Progressive, it will mean that something that started in the distant past was still happening when the other event happened. For example,

We had been dating for a long time when we go married. → focus is on the fact that dating started earlier and was still going on when they got married

Undisputedly, Future Perfect Progressive is not the most common tense, but it is not very complicated once you understand the logic behind. If you want to say that an action will start earlier but will still be going on when another event happens, that’s Future Perfect Progressive’s time to shine! Let’s look at an example.

I will have been dating him for 10 years when I’ll finally walk down the aisle. → focus is on the continuity of dating in the future at a given moment which is the wedding in this example

General structure of Perfect Progressive Tenses

The structure of Perfect Progressive Tenses combines the auxiliary verbs of both perfect and progressive tenses. The auxiliary verb ‘to have’ expresses perfection which is followed by ‘been’, the third form of ‘to be’, and the progressive participle of the main verb.

S + conjugated form of ‘to have’ + been + Progressive Participle of Main Verb + O

The auxiliary verb ‘to have’ needs to be modified according to which tense we need: present, past or future. Note that you only need to change ‘to have’; ‘been’ and the -ing form of the action verb always stay the same.

Take a look at the highlighted area to see the correct form of perfect progressive verbs in each tense:

For a detailed explanation and usage, check out the individual page of each Perfect Progressive Tense here:
Present Perfect Progressive Tense
Past Perfect Progressive Tense
Future Perfect Progressive Tense

Verbs that are usually not used in Progressive Tenses
(Non-continuous Verbs)

Some verbs that express states and not actions or processes cannot be used in Progressive Tenses. The easiest way to decide if you can use a verb in progressive form is to ask yourself if you can see somebody doing it. If you cannot see someone doing it, stick to Simple Tenses. The verbs usually express something abstract such as emotions, opinion or possession.

  • Senses / Perception: to feel, to hear, to see, to smell, to taste
  • Opinions / beliefs: to assume, to believe, to consider, to doubt, to feel (=to think), to find (=to consider), to suppose, to think*
    *‘To think’ cannot be used in a progressive tense if it expresses opinion. However, if it expresses the action of someone thinking about something without any result, it can be used in Progressive Tenses.
  • Mental states: to forget, to imagine, to know, to mean, to notice, to recognize, to remember, to understand
  • Emotions: to envy, to fear, to dislike, to hate, to hope, to like, to love, to mind, to prefer, to regret, to want, to wish
  • Measurement: to contain, to cost, to hold, to measure, to weigh
  • Others: to look (=to resemble), to seem, to be (in most cases), to have (=to own)

Some verbs have a different meaning in Progressive and Simple Tenses. Make sure to note these when forming sentences or translating them.

  • This massage feels nice. → perception of the massage’s quality
  • Franz is feeling sick from the salad. → his health is currently affected by the salad
  • My neighbor has 20 cats. → expressing ownership
  • I’m having a great time with you. → being entertained, feeling good
  • You can’t see the London Eye from here. → perception
  • I’m seeing my mom later during the week. → planning on meeting


Overview of English Verb Tenses


Learning verb tenses is always the tricky part of learning a language. Especially, when a language has 12 of them. It might sound scary at first but once you understand the logic behind why there are so many in the English language, you’ll be able to use them with confidence. In this post, I’ll give you a general overview on tenses that you can use as guidence before you dive into each tense one by one. Take a look at the following chart with all the tenses:

Verb Tenses Chart
12 English Verb Tenses

*S refers to subject as the performer of the action
E.g. If we examine the following sentence: ‘Mary makes a coffee.’ → Mary is the subject.
*O refers to the object on which the action is performed
E.g. In the above-mentioned sentence the coffee is the object.

Verb Tenses

In the English language, tenses are categorized according to two characteristics: tense and aspect as you can see it in the table above. Understanding tenses is more intuitive as there are past, present and future tenses, depending where the action takes place in time compared to our present.

Verb Aspect

The aspect is a bit more complicated. We differentiate three aspects: simple, progressive and perfect. Each tense has a simple, a progressive, a perfect progressive and a perfect version, adding up to 12 tenses. However, it is enough to understand the logic behind the aspects and you will know when to use them. Each aspect follows the same structure in all tenses, therefore, you will only need to learn the logic behind the structure of each aspect and you will be able to put it in past, present of future forms.

Don’t confuse tenses with clauses

In the table above, you can find all tenses in each aspect. Note that each of these tenses can be used in different clauses such as conditional and passive voice so do not confuse the two. I encourage you to check out the overview pages of each aspect before jumping into the tenses so that you will have a general understanding of the structure. Always use a verb tenses chart for guidance.

Useful abbreviations in verb structures

Most verb tenses in the English language consist of an auxuliary verb (helping verb) and a main verb, meaning that there are auxiliary verbs assisting the action verb to express the right time and aspect. At the beginning of each page, you will find a clear guideline how to form the structure in that specific tense. I will be using the following abbreviations for different verb forms:

  • Bare infinitive: Bare infinitive is the infinitive form of the  You form the first form of the verb by dropping the ‘to’ from the infinitive form.
    For example: to make → make
    to play → play
  • Simple Past: The second form of the verb is the past form or -ed form. Note that there are many irregular verbs in the English language. You can find an extensive list here.
  • Past Participle: The third form of the verb is the Past Participle. It is formed by adding -ed to the end of the verb. However, the irregular verbs have irregular Past Participle forms, as well, that you can learn along with the second forms. The third form usually follows the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ in Perfect Tenses.
  • Progressive Participle: The -ing form of the verb is created by adding -ing to the end of the verb. There are some irregularities in spelling that you can find here. The -ing form is generally used in Progressive Tenses and it is follows the auxiliary verb ‘to be’.

Always keep in mind

There are some general rules in English structures that can help you get the right form:

  • ‘Have’ as an auxiliary verb is always followed by the perfect participle of the verb.
    For example: I have been dreaming about a chocolate cake for so long.
  • ‘To be’ in progressive tenses is always followed by the progressive participe of the verb. If it is followed by the perfect participle, it refers to Passive Voice which is not a verb tense.
    For example: Bob was lying to me the whole time. → progressive
    I was being lied to the whole time. → Passive Voice
  • When you got the correct structure of the chosen aspect right, it is always the first auxiliary verb that needs to be put in the chosen tense.
    For example: ‘to be going to the movies’ →  She was going to the movies.
  • The first auxiliary verb of the tense must always agree with the subject. The form of all other auxiliary or action verbs will be determined by the auxiliary verb standing in front of them.
    For example: She has been knitting this sweater for months. → Here, the form of ‘to have’ must agree with she or third person singular.