Continuing my series demonstrating how each tense can combined with the other tenses, here I’m looking at the past perfect and past perfect continuous. The aim is to provide examples sentences that show how a single tense connects to the other 12 aspects; past, present and future in the simple, continuous, perfect and perfect continuous. I started with the past simple and continuous here, and we continue today with the past perfect forms.

To demonstrate the differences, I am using the perfect clause “I had eaten lunch.” It provides a simple context and situation that can imply a relevant consequence for the perfect tense (e.g. no longer needing to cook/eat). Again, with different verbs other ideas might be possible (such as when using abstract verbs).

 

Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect is used to specifically show that something was complete at a certain time in the past; because of this, it mostly connects to other past tense statements (for a relative point of past time). Though some of these statements make sense on their own without an explicit past time connection, the implication with the past perfect is that we are speaking in relation to some other past event. So when we say, for example, “I had eaten lunch while it was raining.”, the idea we are implying might be something like “I had eaten lunch while it was raining, and the rain later stopped.” Likewise, “I had eaten lunch after I had been studying all morning.” would generally suggest something like “I was not hungry at 1pm because I had eaten lunch after I had been studying all morning.”

These implications are less clear for a connection between the past perfect and present or future, so we can’t easily form a logical sentence without including additional context. Note that almost all of these examples could also work with the past simple instead of the past perfect, the key difference is that our past perfect is emphasising the completion of the action at a certain past time.

  • I had eaten lunch.
  • I had eaten lunch before I took my exam. (+Past Simple)
  • I had eaten lunch while it was raining. (+Past Continuous)
  • I had eaten lunch which I had cooked myself. (+Past Perfect)
  • I had eaten lunch after I had been studying all morning. (+Past Perfect Continuous)
  • I had eaten lunch before I got home, but I have grown hungry again. (+Present Perfect)
  • I had eaten lunch before they offered me some, and I have been regretting it ever since. (+Present Perfect Continuous)
  • I had eaten lunch without her that day, and my wife remains upset. (+Present Simple)
  • I had eaten lunch before I got home, so I am only watching TV now. (+Present Continuous)
  • I had eaten lunch there before it closed down but I will try the restaurant again if it reopens. (+Future Simple)
  • I had eaten lunch there before I left London and I will be eating there again when I return. (+Future Simple Continuous)
  • I had eaten lunch before going out and I will have made that mistake four times this month if I do it again tomorrow. (+Future Perfect)
  • I had eaten lunch before I got home and I will have been doing so every day for a month by the end of the week. (+Future Perfect Continuous)

Past Perfect Continuous

The past perfect continuous follows all the same considerations as the past perfect, though with the focus being on the process rather than completion, so usually we use it instead to talk about a duration or something that was interrupted. As with the past perfect, these examples imply, or require, a past time context – in these cases, however, we would usually expect either a duration or an interruption (e.g. “I had been eating lunch after I had been studying, when the phone rang.”). They also might be easily replaced with the past continuous, where the specific past time is less important.

  • I had been eating lunch.
  • I had been eating lunch when the bell rang. (+Past Simple)
  • I had been eating lunch while it was raining. (+Past Continuous)
  • I had been eating lunch which the chefs had prepared earlier. (+Past Perfect)
  • I had been eating lunch after I had been studying all morning. (+Past Perfect Continuous)
  • I had been eating lunch there for years, but the cafe has closed now. (+Present Perfect)
  • I had been eating lunch when our dog escaped, and I have been looking for him ever since. (+Present Perfect Continuous)
  • I had been eating lunch too quickly, the doctor told me, so now I take my time. (+Present Simple)
  • I had been eating lunch at a cafe that closed, so I am looking for a new place to go. (+Present Continuous)
  • I had been eating lunch with my friends last week, but I will eat alone today. (+Future Simple)
  • I had been eating lunch outside before winter, and I will be doing it again soon. (+ Future Simple Continuous)
  • I had been eating lunch outside before winter made it too cold, but I will have prepared for it this year. (+ Future Perfect)
  • I had been eating lunch outside before winter, and I will have been doing so every summer for a decade if I do it this year. (+Future Perfect Continuous)

Any questions, let me know in the comments below – and I’ll be back next time with the present tenses!

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