Past Perfect Vs. Past Perfect Progressive

AFTER THEY STUDIED VERB TENSES ALL WEEK, THE STUDENTS HAD HAD ENOUGH 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)

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