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The “perfect” tenses are so fun! However, in this context, “perfect” probably doesn’t mean what you think it does.
In tense-sense, it means “complete” or “finished”.
Past perfect means “completed in the past”.
So, does the term “past perfect continuous” (or “progressive”) make sense? Progressive and continuous mean the opposite of complete, after all! That’s how it seems, at least.
The truth is that past perfect continuous means “done in the past, finished, but it continued on until a specific time, which was also in the past”. It’s beginning, continuing, and ending all occurred in the past.
That’s WAY too long of a title, though, so we’ve settled on “past perfect continuous”.
Use the helping verbs “had been”. This stays the same whether you are discussing a naming word (noun) that is either singular or plural.
The verb itself changes, too. You’ll add the suffix “-ing”(more details below the table) at the end of the verb (which is actually the present participle – more on that below, as well).
See the table below for the past perfect continuous tense of the base word “write”.
Notice that when using a past continuous verb in a question, place the word had at the beginning of the sentence, followed by the naming word, and then the word been followed by the “-ing” portion of the verb.
For use with a negative statement, the naming word is first again. Follow that with had, then the negative word (in our example, we’re using not) just as with the question sentence, and finalize it with the word been and the “-ing” verb.
Typically, we form the present participle by adding the suffix “-ing”. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. In some cases, you may need to either drop or double the last letter.
For verbs like be, do, work, and cry, all you need to do is add -ing. They become being, doing, working, and crying.
However, there are three other rules that apply to creating a present participle.
First, if the base form of the verb ends in a consonant, then a stressed vowel, and then another consonant, you will need to double the last letter.
In our example above, we used the base word “sit”. “S” is a consonant, followed by the stressed vowel “i”, and then the last consonant “t”. So, when you’re creating the present participle form of this verb, it becomes “sitting”.
Remember that the definition of vowel includes the letters “a”, “e”, “i”, “o”, and “u”.
In addition, if the base verb ends in “ie”, then to form the present participle, the “ie” is dropped and a “y” is added. The verb “lie” becomes “lying”, the verb “die” becomes “dying”, and so on. In this way, sometimes “y” acts as the necessary vowel in the syllable.
The last exception to the “-ing” rule occurs when the base verb ends in a vowel followed by a consonant and then an “e”. In this case, the “e” is dropped. For example, the verb “come” changes to “coming”, the verb “clone” changes to “cloning”, and the verb “hope” changes to “hoping”.
English is weird! That’s the short answer.
The longer and more accurate answer is that while we are indeed using the present participle, we are also using the qualifying verbs “had been” which show that the event being talked about “had been happening” in the past. It’s over now, but we describe the event or situation that “had been present” as ongoing when it was occurring, but ultimately ended in the past..
Using a continuous tense is dependent on the kind of verb being used because there are quite a few verbs that simply do not work in a continuous tense.
Those that do work are verbs that you can see or hear being done. They are action verbs, and they take place on a visible or audible level. One test to assure that these verbs “work” is to try them with the phrase can + see/hear. Let’s look at a few examples of this:
I can see someone jump, so jump can be continuous.
I can hear someone yell, so yell can be continuous.
I can see someone faint, so faint can be continuous.
I can not see OR hear someone remember.
I can not see OR hear someone have.
Verbs that are non-continuous include those that are feelings, thoughts, senses other than seeing and hearing, convey communication, or show some other state of being.
On occasion, verbs will be mixed which conveys that they have more than one meaning. For example, the word “have” can mean ownership. You would not say “Katie has been having a cat for the last two years.” That would be incorrect.
You could say, however, that “Katie had been having fun with her cat until her dog ran in the room.” In this context, having means “experiencing”, and it can be used as a continuous verb.
When you are unable to use a continuous verb tense, you will need to revert to the simple present tense instead.
One instance in which the past perfect continuous is the right tense to use is when an event has caused another situation or event to occur, but the first event ended in the past. Here are some examples of that.
These events begin, have their duration, and end entirely in the past.
Birdy’s song “I’ll Never Forget You”, she says in the first verse: Eighty-Six Charlie, he came back/ Said he’d been thinking it over/ Said he’s had a change of heart/ He thinks he’s made a grave mistake.
By using the past perfect continuous tense, Charlie doesn’t just state that he thought it over once and changed his mind. With something as simple as word choice and semantics, he lets her know that his re-evaluation of the experience had been ongoing (or continuous).
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