Past Perfect Continuous – Free ESL Resources

In English, we use the past perfect continuous to express actions in the past, while stressing a long duration. Often, the action being described was close in time to another action in the past and was interrupted by the other activity. It can also be used to express a cause and effect relationship (James is tired because he had been jogging).

The past perfect continuous tense is an important learning concept for your ESL students to achieve natural expression and speech. Think about how often we use the construction of had + been to describe actions in everyday speech (Where were you? I had been waiting for 20 minutes before I decided to leave!).
We had a very difficult time finding suitable resources to teach the past perfect continuous to our private ESL students, so we decided to develop our own content. We have two lessons covering the past perfect continuous (VC4.1 – Past-Perfect-Continuous-1 and VC4.2 – Past-Perfect-Continuous-2). You can find them under our Verbs-Simple category on our Teacher tab. If you don’t yet have an account for Off2Class, you can sign up on our Home Page (and get access to over 200 lessons designed for private ESL tutors and teachers).
VC4.1 – Past-Perfect-Continuous-1
We begin the lesson with a quick review of the past perfect simple using a timeline (two events in the past, one completed before another one). We then explain that the past perfect continuous is used to stress duration, or to express an activity that was occurring close in time to another activity:
past-perfect-continuous past-perfect-continuous
We then offer ample practice for your student to get comfortable with the use and construction of the tense using gapfills and sentence correction exercises. We also offer exercises, where the student can describe what has recently happened in a picture, based on evidence:
past-perfect-contiunous past-perfect-contiunous
We also offer ample practice for your student to determine whether the past perfect continuous or the past perfect simple is appropriate, given the duration of actions / events in the past.
VC4.2 – Past-Perfect-Continuous-2
In our second past perfect continuous lesson we introduce the negative form (using the contraction hadn’t). We then offer more explanation and strategies of how to choose between the past perfect simple and the past perfect continuous. We then use a number of timeline examples and exercises to illustrate the concept:
past-perfect-continuous past-perfect-continuous

We hope that you enjoy our past perfect continuous lesson series! Do let us know if you’ve taught these lessons with your private ESL students!


  • Navjit Singh says:

    April 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    you people have done a real commendable job here.
    Being an English Trainer it’s been a blessing that my eye fell on your page surfing through Internet. It’s a heartfelt thanks.

  • Olivia says:

    March 28, 2023 at 8:24 pm

    You have no idea how useful is this. Thanks for all the effort 🙁

    • Christine Chan says:

      April 13, 2023 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks, Olivia! We’re so glad you’re enjoying the content.

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