I have seen several examples that say that the past perfect continuous is used to state that an action has finished, for example

"I had been working on my novel when she came in to talk to me".

The book says that this implies I stopped working when she came in or had already stopped working a short time before.

I thought it meant that when she came in I had already been working for a while. To me it says nothing about stopping. What do you think?

  • As a learner, I think the book is trying to say the perfect aspect implies something related to the present, but finished, no matter when. I mean, that could be a second ago, ten seconds ago or ten minutes ago, but the effect should be seen in the present. In fact, there should be something related to the present.
    – Cardinal
    Mar 15, 2018 at 18:43
  • 1
    The ongoing action in the past precedes another action that is over in the past. So, logically, it describes something going on at a certain moment in time. But , you are right: it does not imply the action stopped at all. I'm often explaining grammar to people when the phone rings. Same idea. A continuous action in the present with a when clause. Just because my phone rings does not imply I stop explaining grammar to people.
    – Lambie
    Mar 15, 2018 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


A learner myself, I think that in your case, to link the Past Perfect Continuous with the Simple Past, the only possible way would be to voice the period of time you'd been working on your novel for when she came in to talk to you:

I had been working on my novel for a whole hour when she came in to talk to me.

Otherwise, it would be Past Continuous:

I was busy working on my novel when she came in to talk to me.

Or Past Perfect Simple (a completed activity):

I had (just) stopped working on my novel when she came in to talk to me.

  • There is no need "for a whole hour". I had been explaining this to Anouk when your answer caught my eye.
    – Lambie
    Mar 15, 2018 at 22:17
  • @Lambie God bless you!
    – Victor B.
    Mar 15, 2018 at 22:42

Chronologically, if two verbs are both present or past, then the perfect tense lies before the normal form. So, saying that "you had been working" instead of "you were working" implies the action is completed before she has come in to talk to you.

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