Past perfect continuous

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Study this example situation:

Yesterday morning I got up and looked out of the window.
The sun was shining, but the ground was very wet.

It had been raining.

It was not raining when I looked out of the window.
The sun was shining. But it had been raining before.

had been -ing is the past perfect continuous:

Some more examples:

  • My hands were dirty because I’d been repairing my bike.
  • Tom was tired when he got home. He’d been working hard all day.
  • I went to Madrid a few years ago and stayed with a friend of mine. She hadn’t been living there very long, but she knew the city very well.

You can say that something had been happening before something else happened:

  • We’d been playing tennis for about half an hour when it started to rain heavily.

Compare have been -ing (present perfect continuous) and had been -ing (past perfect continuous):

Compare was -ing (past continuous) and had been -ing:

  • It wasn’t raining when we went out. The sun was shining. But it had been raining, so the ground was wet.
  • Katherine was lying on the sofa. She was tired because she’d been working hard.

Some verbs (for example, know) are not normally used in continuous forms (be + -ing):

  • We were good friends. We had known each other for years. (not had been knowing)
  • A few years ago Lisa cut her hair really short. I was surprised because she’d always had long hair. (not she’d been having)

For a list of these verbs, see Unit 4A. For have, see Unit 17

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