The Past Continuous, The Past Perfect and The Past Perfect Continuous Tense

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CHAPTER 6.  THE PAST CONTINUOUS, THE PAST PERFECT AND THE PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS

1. Summary of the uses of the English tenses

There are four types of verb tense in English: the Simple, the Continuous, the Perfect, and the Perfect Continuous. Each type of tense has a Present, a Past, and a Future form, as well as other modal forms.

Thus, just as there are four present tenses in English, there are also four past tenses: the Simple Past, the Past Continuous, the Past Perfect, and the Past Perfect Continuous.

As will be shown below, the three forms of each type of tense are closely related in terms of their use and formation. For instance, the Present Continuous, Past Continuous, and Future Continuous tenses are all used to express continuous, ongoing actions; and are all formed from the verb to be followed by the present participle. The differences are that the Present Continuous is formed with the Simple Present of the verb to be, and is used mainly to express present actions; the Past Continuous is formed with the Simple Past of the verb to be, and is used to express past actions; and the Future Continuous is formed with the Simple Future of the verb to be, and is used to express future actions.

The uses of the Simple, Continuous, Perfect, and Perfect Continuous tenses are summarized in the following table.

 

The Uses of the English Tenses
 

Type of Tense Type of Action Expressed
Simple – actions occurring at regular intervals
– general truths, or situations existing for a period of time
– non-continuous actions
Continuous – continuous, ongoing actions
Perfect – non-continuous actions completed before a certain time
Perfect Continuous – continuous, ongoing actions completed before a certain time

 

2. The past continuous

a. Use
The Past Continuous tense is used to express continuous, ongoing actions which took place in the past. In the following examples, the verbs in the Past Continuous tense are underlined.
e.g. He was traveling in Europe last summer.
They were playing tennis yesterday afternoon.

The Past Continuous tense is frequently used to refer to an ongoing action which was taking place when something else occurred in the past.
e.g. I was washing the dishes when the telephone rang.
We were entertaining friends when the parcel arrived.

In the first example, the use of the Past Continuous tense indicates that the action of washing the dishes was taking place at the time when the telephone rang. In the second example, the use of the Past Continuous tense indicates that the action of entertaining friends was taking place at the time when the parcel arrived.

b. Formation
The Past Continuous tense is formed from the Simple Past of the auxiliary to be, followed by the present participle of the verb. For example, the Past Continuous of the verb to work is conjugated as follows:

 

I was working
you were working
he was working
she was working
it was working
we were working
they were working

See Exercise 1.

c. Questions and negative statements
As is the case with other English tenses, questions and negative statements in the Past Continuous are formed using the auxiliary.

Questions are formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement Question
  I was working.   Was I working?
  They were working.   Were they working?

Negative statements are formed by placing the word not after the
auxiliary. For example:

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement
  I was working.   I was not working.
  They were working.   They were not working.

In spoken English, the contractions wasn’t and weren’t are often used.

Negative questions are formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject, and the word not after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not immediately follows the auxiliary. The following are examples of negative questions with and without contractions:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  Was I not working?   Wasn’t I working?
  Were they not working?   Weren’t they working?

Tag questions are formed using the auxiliary. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions. For example:

Affirmative Statement Affirmative Statement with Tag Question
  I was working.   I was working, wasn’t I?
  They were working.   They were working, weren’t they?

See Exercises 2 and 3.

 

3. The past perfect

a. Use
The Past Perfect tense is used to refer to a non-continuous action in the past, which was already completed by the time another action in the past took place. In the following examples, the verbs in the Past Perfect tense are underlined.
e.g. She had heard the news before I saw her.
had finished my work by the time the clock struck twelve.

In the preceding examples, the verbs had heard and had finished are in the Past Perfect tense, and the verbs saw and struck are in the Simple Past. The use of the Past Perfect tense indicates that the actions of hearing the news and finishing the work were already completed by the time the actions expressed by the verbs in the Simple Past took place.

b. Formation
The Past Perfect tense is formed from the Simple Past of the auxiliary to have, followed by the past participle of the verb.

The Simple Past of to have is had. In spoken English, the auxiliary had is often contracted to ‘d. For example, the Past Perfect of the verb to work is conjugated as follows:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  I had worked   I’d worked
  you had worked   you’d worked
  he had worked   he’d worked
  she had worked   she’d worked
  it had worked   it’d worked
  we had worked   we’d worked
  they had worked   they’d worked

The contraction it’d is less frequently used than the other contractions, since it is more difficult to pronounce.

See Exercise 4.

c. Questions and negative statements
As is the case with other English tenses, questions and negative statements in the Past Perfect tense are formed using the auxiliary.

Questions are formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement Question
  I had worked.   Had I worked?
  They had worked.   Had they worked?

Negative statements are formed by placing the word not after the auxiliary. For example:

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement
  I had worked.   I had not worked.
  They had worked.   They had not worked.

In spoken English, the following contraction is often used:

Without Contraction With Contraction
  had not   hadn’t

Negative questions are formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject, and the word not after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not follows immediately after the auxiliary. For example:

Without Contraction With Contraction
  Had I not worked?   Hadn’t I worked?
  Had they not worked?   Hadn’t they worked?

Tag questions are formed using the auxiliary. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions.

Affirmative Statement Affirmative Statement with Tag Question
  I had worked.   I had worked, hadn’t I?
  They had worked.   They had worked, hadn’t they?

See Exercises 5 and 6.

 

4. The past perfect continuous

a. Use
The Past Perfect Continuous tense is used to refer to a continuous, ongoing action in the past which was already completed by the time another action in the past took place. In the following examples, the verbs in the Past Perfect Continuous tense are underlined.
e.g. I had been waiting for two months by the time I received the reply.
He had been thinking about his friends shortly before they called.

In the preceding examples, the verbs had been waiting and had been thinking are in the Past Perfect Continuous tense, and the verbs received and called are in the Simple Past. The use of the Past Perfect Continuous tense indicates that the actions of waiting and thinking were continuous, and were completed by the time the actions expressed by the verbs in the Simple Past took place.

b. Formation
The Past Perfect Continuous tense is formed from the Past Perfect of the auxiliary to be, followed by the present participle of the verb. For example, the Past Perfect Continuous tense of the verb to work is conjugated as follows:

 

I had been working
you had been working
he had been working
she had been working
it had been working
we had been working
they had been working

The auxiliary had is often contracted to ‘d in spoken English.

See Exercise 7.

c. Questions and negative statements
As is the case with other English tenses, questions and negative statements in the Past Perfect Continuous tense are formed using the first auxiliary.

Questions are formed by placing the first auxiliary before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement Question
  I had been working.   Had I been working?
  They had been working.   Had they been working?

Negative statements are formed by placing the word not after the first auxiliary. For example:

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement
  I had been working.   I had not been working.
  They had been working.   They had not been working.

Negative questions are formed by placing the first auxiliary before the subject, and the word not after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not follows immediately after the first auxiliary. For example:

Without Contractions With Contractions
  Had I not been working?   Hadn’t I been working?
  Had they not been working?   Hadn’t they been working?

Tag questions are formed using the first auxiliary. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions.

Affirmative Statement Affirmative Statement with Tag Question
  I had been working.   I had been working, hadn’t I?
  They had been working.   They had been working, hadn’t they?

See Exercises 8 and 9.

 

5. Summary of the formation of the English present and past tenses

The following table summarizes the formation of the English present and past tenses.

Tense Auxiliary Verb Form
Simple Present do/does * bare infinitive **
Present Continuous am/is/are present participle
Present Perfect have/has past participle
Present Perfect Continuous have/has  been present participle
Simple Past did * bare infinitive ***
Past Continuous was/were present participle
Past Perfect had past participle
Past Perfect Continuous had been present participle

* In the Simple Present and Simple Past tenses, the auxiliaries are used only for emphasis, and for the formation of questions and negative statements. Auxiliaries are never used with the Simple Present or Simple Past of the verb to be.

** When used without the auxiliary, the third person singular of the Simple Present has the ending s.

*** When the verb is used without the auxiliary, the Simple Past form of the verb is used. For regular verbs, and for many irregular verbs, the Simple Past has the same form as the past participle.

See Exercise 10.

 

6. Emphatic statements

In spoken English, words can be emphasized by being pronounced with a heavier stress than usual. This type of emphasis is usually indicated in written English by means of italics or underlining. In the following examples, emphasized words are indicated by means of underlining.

Emphatic statements are often used in conversation; for instance, when one speaker is contradicting another.
e.g. “I don’t believe he works very hard.”
“Yes, he does work hard.”

When it is desired to emphasize a verb, it is generally the first auxiliary which is stressed. For instance, in the sentence I am working hard, the verb can be emphasized by stressing the auxiliary am.
e.g. I am working hard.

Usually, no auxiliary is required for affirmative statements in the Simple Present and Simple Past. However, in order to make such statements emphatic, for verbs other than the verb to be, the auxiliary to do is used, followed by the bare infinitive. For example, in the Simple Present, the emphatic form of the verb to work is formed with the Simple Present of the auxiliary to do, as shown below:

Affirmative Statement Emphatic Affirmative Statement
  I work.   I do work.
  You work.   You do work.
  He works.   He does work.
  She works.   She does work.
  It works.   It does work.
  We work.   We do work.
  They work.   They do work.

In the Simple Past, the emphatic form of the verb to work is formed with the Simple Past of the auxiliary to do, as shown below:

Affirmative Statement Emphatic Affirmative Statement
  I worked.   I did work.
  You worked.   You did work.
  He worked.   He did work.
  She worked.   She did work.
  It worked.   It did work.
  We worked.   We did work.
  They worked.   They did work.

For the emphatic form of the Simple Present of the verb to be, no auxiliary is used. Instead, the verb itself is stressed. For example:

Affirmative Statement Emphatic Affirmative Statement
  I am ready.   I am ready.
  It is ready.   It is ready.
  They are ready.   They are ready.

Similarly, for the emphatic form of the Simple Past of the verb to be, no auxiliary is used. Instead, the verb itself is stressed. For example:

Affirmative Statement Emphatic Affirmative Statement
  I was ready.   I was ready.
  It was ready.   It was ready.
  They were ready.   They were ready.

Examples of emphatic statements in all of the present and past tenses are given in the following table:

Tense Affirmative Statement Emphatic Statement
  Simple Present   I work.   I do work.
  Present Continuous   I am working.   I am working.
  Present Perfect   I have worked.   I have worked.
  Present Perfect Continuous   I have been working.   I have been working.
  Simple Past   I worked.   I did work.
  Past Continuous   I was working.   I was working.
  Past Perfect   I had worked.   I had worked.
  Past Perfect Continuous   I had been working.   I had been working.
  Simple Present of to be   I am ready.   I am ready.
  Simple Past of to be   I was ready.   I was ready.

It should be noted that questions may be emphasized in the same way as statements.
e.g. Did it work?
Are they ready?

Sometimes it is desired to emphasize a negative statement containing the word not. In spoken English, often both the auxiliary and the word not are stressed, but in written English, usually only the word not is underlined or written in italics. For example:

Negative Statement Emphatic Negative Statement
  He does not know the answer.   He does not know the answer.

When a contracted form of the word not is used, it is generally the auxiliary which is stressed in an emphatic statement. For example:

Negative Statement Emphatic Negative Statement
  He doesn’t know the answer.   He doesn’t know the answer.

See Exercise 11.

EXERCISES for Chapter 6

1. Using the Past Continuous tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs shown in brackets. For example:
I __________ a salad. (to make)
was making a salad.

They ___________ to find some boots. (to try)
They were trying to find some boots.

1. He _______________ a book. (to read)
2. We _________________ money. (to save)
3. She _______________ school. (to attend)
4. It ________________. (to thunder)
5. They ________________ for the exam. (to study)
6. We ________________ ourselves. (to sun)
7. They ________________ they way. (to lead)
8. You _______________ by bus. (to leave)
9. We ________________ through the snow. (to plod)
10. You _______________ your goals. (to attain)

2. Rewrite the following affirmative statements as questions, negative statements, negative questions without contractions, negative questions with contractions, and affirmative statements followed by negative tag questions. For example:
You were learning French.
Were you learning French?
You were not learning French.
Were you not learning French?
Weren’t you learning French?
You were learning French, weren’t you?

1. We were starting a business.
2. She was waiting outside.
3. He was singing.

3. Using the Past Continuous tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs shown in brackets. For example:
____ you _______ last night? (to work)
Were you working last night?

It ___ not _______. (to rain)
It was not raining.

They _____________ home. (to hurry)
They were hurrying home.

1. We _________________ for the test. (to prepare)
2. ______ she ___________ notes? (to take)
3. I ______ not ___________ long. (to wait)
4. They __________________ at Woolco. (to shop)
5. ______ it not ____________ outside? (to freeze)
6. She _________________ on Almond Street last year. (to live)
7. ______ you ____________ supper when the phone rang? (to eat)
8. He ________________ asleep by the time the lesson ended. (to fall)
9. ______ we not _____________ the next chapter? (to discuss)
10. They ___________ their books away, when their friends arrived. (to put)
11. You ______ not _____________ the news. (to follow)
12. ______ I ____________ too much noise? (to make)

4. Using the Past Perfect tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs shown in brackets. For example:
I _________ the parcel. (to open)
had opened the parcel.

They ________ to the opera. (to be)
They had been to the opera.

1. She ________________ a sweater. (to buy)
2. He _______________ to work. (to start)
3. You _________________ the message. (to understand)
4. We ________________ the appointment. (to forget)
5. They ________________ us. (to convince)
6. She ________________ the book. (to find)
7. He ________________ the envelope. (to tear)
8. You ________________ your breakfast. (to finish)
9. We ______________ to school. (to go)
10. They ________________ the beds. (to make)

5. Rewrite the following affirmative statements as questions, negative statements, negative questions without contractions, negative questions with contractions, and affirmative statements followed by negative tag questions. For example:
He had attended the concert.
Had he attended the concert?
He had not attended the concert.
Had he not attended the concert?
Hadn’t he attended the concert?
He had attended the concert, hadn’t he?

1. You had entered the contest.
2. I had wanted to come.
3. We had arrived on time.

6. Using the Past Perfect tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs shown in brackets. For example:
He _____________ hard. (to practise)
He had practised hard.

___ they ____ a good job? (to do)
Had they done a good job?

I ___ not _____ the news. (to hear)
had not heard the news.

1. You ________________ it carefully.(to consider)
2. She __________________ her way in the woods. (to lose)
3. _____ he not _____________ his hands? (to wash)
4. _____ they ____________ the letter? (to read)
5. I _____ not _____________ the words. (to forget)
6. We ____________ to come even before we received the letter. (to decide)
7. _____ he not _____________ everything well? (to organize)
8. They _____ not __________ a holiday in a long time. (to have)
9. She __________________ to talk to us. (to stop)
10. He _____ not yet ____________. (to arrive)
11. _____ you ___________ to meet him? (to plan)
12. I _____ not ____________ her for a long time. (to see)

7. Using the Past Perfect Continuous tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs shown in brackets. For example:
We __________________ for an apartment. (to search)
We had been searching for an apartment.

She _______________ extra courses. (to take)
She had been taking extra courses.

1. We ____________________ the grass. (to cut)
2. You ______________________ at the photographs. (to look)
3. They _____________________ you the letters. (to give)
4. He _____________________ for us. (to wait)
5. She _____________________ a business. (to run)
6. It ______________________ all night. (to rain)
7. We ______________________ them. (to encourage)
8. You ___________________ on the beach. (to lie)
9. They ______________________ the sauce. (to taste)
10. He ____________________ behind. (to lag)

8. Rewrite the following affirmative statements as questions, negative statements, negative questions without contractions, negative questions with contractions, and affirmative statements followed by negative tag questions. For example:
She had been keeping a diary.
Had she been keeping a diary?
She had not been keeping a diary.
Had she not been keeping a diary?
Hadn’t she been keeping a diary?
She had been keeping a diary, hadn’t she?

1. We had been raking the leaves.
2. You had been visiting your cousins.
3. They had been swimming in the lake.

9. Using the Past Perfect Continuous tense, fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs shown in brackets. For example:
We _______________. (to argue)
We had been arguing.

___ he ___________ well? (to feel)
Had he been feeling well?

I ___ not __________ much walking. (to do)
had not been doing much walking.

1. You _______________________ the stove. (to clean)
2. She _____ not ___________________ regularly. (to come)
3. _____ they not ___________________ on you? (to count)
4. We ________________________ for shoes. (to look)
5. _____ it not ________________ that day? (to snow)
6. I ________________________ for groceries. (to shop)
7. _____ he not ___________________ to the news? (to listen)
8. They _____ not ___________________ to drive far. (to intend)
9. _____ we ___________________ on time? (to leave)
10. _____ you ____________________ that? (to expect)
11. They ________________________ television. (to watch)
12. He _____ not _________________ long when the bus arrived. (to wait)

10. For each of the following sentences, paying attention to whether the underlined auxiliary is a form of to beto do or to have, fill in the blank with the bare infinitive, present participle, or past participle of the verb given in brackets, as appropriate. Refer if necessary to the table summarizing the formation of the English present and past tenses. For example:
He was ________ medicine. (to study)
He was studying medicine.

You have _______ the food. (to bring)
You have brought the food.

We had been _______ a long time. (to wait)
We had been waiting a long time.

Does she _______ classical music? (to like)
Does she like classical music?

1. She was _______________ a picture. (to draw)
2. We have ________________ our homework. (to finish)
3. I have been ________________ for an opportunity. (to wait)
4. Do you ________________ a bicycle? (to own)
5. We are ________________ coffee. (to drink)
6. Did he ________________ the book? (to enjoy)
7. They were ________________ us. (to expect)
8. You had ________________ a job. (to find)
9. He is ______________ the truth. (to tell)
10. It had been ________________ all morning. (to snow)
11. We had ________________ the window. (to open)
12. I am _______________ potatoes. (to peel)
13. You did not ________________ my letter. (to answer)
14. It does not __________________. (to matter)
15. I have ________________ this movie before. (to see)

11. Make the following statements emphatic. For example:
He likes cats.
He does like cats.

You have finished.
You have finished.

They were here.
They were here.

We are not ready.
We are not ready.

1. I enjoy reading.
2. They do not like music.
3. It snowed.
4. I have found my pen.
5. She cooks well.
6. You were listening to the radio.
7. They found the answer.
8. He was right.
9. She understands.
10. They had locked the door.
11. He did not arrive late.
12. You ran fast.

ANSWERS TO THE EXERCISES for Chapter 6

Answers to Exercise 1:
1. was reading 2. were saving 3. was attending 4. was thundering 5. were studying 6. were sunning 7. were leading 8. were leaving 9. were plodding 10. were attaining

Answers to Exercise 2:
1. Were we starting a business? We were not starting a business. Were we not starting a business? Weren’t we starting a business? We were starting a business, weren’t we?
2. Was she waiting outside? She was not waiting outside. Was she not waiting outside? Wasn’t she waiting outside? She was waiting outside, wasn’t she?
3. Was he singing? He was not singing. Was he not singing? Wasn’t he singing? He was singing, wasn’t he?

Answers to Exercise 3:
1. were preparing 2. Was, taking 3. was, waiting 4. were shopping 5. Was, freezing 6. was living 7. Were, eating 8. was falling 9. Were, discussing 10. were putting 11. were, following 12. Was, making

Answers to Exercise 4:
1. had bought 2. had started 3. had understood 4. had forgotten 5. had convinced 6. had found 7. had torn 8. had finished 9. had gone 10. had made

Answers to Exercise 5:
1. Had you entered the contest? You had not entered the contest. Had you not entered the contest? Hadn’t you entered the contest? You had entered the contest, hadn’t you?
2. Had I wanted to come? I had not wanted to come. Had I not wanted to come? Hadn’t I wanted to come? I had wanted to come, hadn’t I?
3. Had we arrived on time? We had not arrived on time. Had we not arrived on time? Hadn’t we arrived on time? We had arrived on time, hadn’t we?

Answers to Exercise 6:
1. had considered 2. had lost 3. Had, washed 4. Had, read 5. had, forgotten 6. had decided 7. Had, organized 8. had, had 9. had stopped 10. had, arrived 11. Had, planned 12. had, seen

Answers to Exercise 7:
1. had been cutting 2. had been looking 3. had been giving 4. had been waiting 5. had been running 6. had been raining 7. had been encouraging 8. had been lying 9. had been tasting 10. had been lagging

Answers to Exercise 8:
1. Had we been raking the leaves? We had not been raking the leaves. Had we not been raking the leaves? Hadn’t we been raking the leaves? We had been raking the leaves, hadn’t we?
2. Had you been visiting your cousins? You had not been visiting your cousins. Had you not been visiting your cousins? Hadn’t you been visiting your cousins? You had been visiting your cousins, hadn’t you?
3. Had they been swimming in the lake? They had not been swimming in the lake. Had they not been swimming in the lake? Hadn’t they been swimming in the lake? They had been swimming in the lake, hadn’t they?

Answers to Exercise 9:
1. had been cleaning 2. had/been coming 3. Had/been counting 4. had been looking 5. Had/been snowing 6. had been shopping 7. Had/ been listening 8. had/been intending 9. Had/been leaving 10. Had/ been expecting 11. had been watching 12. had/been waiting

Answers to Exercise 10:
1. drawing 2. finished 3. waiting 4. own 5. drinking 6. enjoy 7. expecting 8. found 9. telling 10. snowing 11. opened 12. peeling 13. answer 14. matter 15. seen

Answers to Exercise 11:
1. I do enjoy reading. 2. They do not like music. 3. It did snow. 4. I have found my pen. 5. She does cook well. 6. You were listening to the radio. 7. They did find the answer. 8. He was right. 9. She does understand. 10. They had locked the door. 11. He did not arrive late. 12. You did run fast.

If you find any mistake in the questions or need an explanation for the correct answer, please let us know by leaving a comment below. We will immediately correct the mistake or try to explain the answer as much as possible.
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