Past Perfect Vs. Past Perfect Progressive

After they studied verb tenses all week, the students had had enough of grammar!

The past perfect often stumps students since it’s not commonly used. The past perfect progressive, also known as the past perfect continuous, seems even more complicated! But these two verb tenses don’t have to be a mystery to students. With the following helpful diagrams and chart, your students will be able to recognize and use these tenses when needed.

Past Perfect:  HAD + P.P.

The past perfect is formed with the past auxiliary verb had and the past participle of the main verb. It is used when the first past action finishes before the second past action. Tell your students this while showing them the following diagram:

Past Perfect Progressive:  HAD + BEEN + -ING VERB

The past perfect progressive is formed with the past auxiliary verb had, the past participle auxiliary verb been, and the present participle form (-ing) of the main verb. It is used when the first past action continues until the second past action. Tell your students this while showing them the following diagram:

Note: If you want to elaborate for more advanced students, you can explain that the past perfect progressive is formed by combining the past perfect (had + p.p.) plus the basic progressive pattern (be + -ing verb). Since the past participle of the Be verb is been, you get had + been + -ing verb when combined.

Comparison Chart

To compare the two verb tenses and show your students examples, use the following verb chart. You can print out the chart and make photocopies, show them on the computer, or write it out on the board.

Important Note

When giving your students examples, it is very important to mix up the order of the independent and dependent clauses. Make sure that you give some examples where the independent clause comes first (with the past perfect or past perfect progressive), and others where the dependent clause comes first (with the simple past). Point out that when the dependent clause comes first, students must use a comma between the clauses. Showing both types of examples means that students won’t simply memorize “had + p.p. first, past verb second”, which can cause errors.

Did You Know?

English speakers often don’t bother with these complicated verb tenses, especially in informal speaking and writing. In most cases, you can substitute the simple past in place of the past perfect, and the past progressive in place of the past perfect progressive, with no change in meaning. Often the context or the time markers are enough to make the timing clear. Consider the following examples:

  • My friend had texted me five times before I answered. (past perfect)
  • My friend texted me five times before I answered. (simple past, same meaning)
  • We had been waiting for two hours before she arrived. (past perfect progressive)
  • We were waiting for two hours before she arrived. (past progressive, same meaning)

Practice with ESL-Library Lessons

Join ESL-Library Try the Past Perfect lesson in the Grammar Practice Worksheets section. There are 10 pages of practice with the past perfect and the past perfect progressive, as well as comparisons of the past perfect vs. the past perfect progressive and the past perfect vs. the simple past and present perfect.  Join ESL-Library today!

For Fun

The Grammar Police shared this photo on Facebook recently. Try analyzing it with your students! See if they can figure out why it’s grammatically correct to use four “hads” in a row in this sentence: All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life.

(Answer: Think of the first part of the sentence like this: He had had a lot of faith by the time he was an old man. Think of the second part of the sentence like this: His faith had had no effect on the outcome of his life by the time he was an old man. If you join them together, and the context of age is implied, then you can get this result: All the faith he had had [subject] had had [main verb] no effect [object] on the outcome of his life.)

5 comments

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  1. support@lvlapp.com'

    Michal says:

    Dec 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Really nice and concise explanation.

    I hope this will motivate me to use it more often, cause I can’t remember a time when I used it.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you Michal! Yes, it is tough to keep all the rules and explanations straight! That was part of the reason for making the comparison chart, so that teachers could print it out and refer to it anytime. :)

      Reply

  2. justin_lee@yahoo.com'

    Justin Lawrence says:

    Dec 12, 2013 at 5:51 am

    Hi, there! This is great! It explains the past perfect and past perfect progressive clearly. I also love the poster. I will definitely use this in my grammar classes.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 12, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Justin! I’m happy you liked the poster. I always found that my TOEIC students benefited from a side-by-side comparison of tenses. :)

      Reply

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