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So I was doing some test in past tenses and I had the headline sentence to fill in so I decided it to be the past perfect continuous tense because why not? It also satisfies the past perfect continuous conditions.

However, it corrected me for "I had a cup of tea for breakfast because I had run out of coffee."

Why is this so? For me it just seems a matter of context, not grammatics

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    Paradoxically, past perfect continuous works if you say it first, as in "I had been running out of coffee, so I drank a cup of tea." – English Student Apr 21 '18 at 21:21
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Past perfect continuous tense indicates something habitual or progressive that occurred in the past: "I drank tea because I had been running out of coffee" puts the coffee shortage further in the past relative to the drinking of tea, and means that you were, but are no longer running out of coffee, which implies you have enough coffee now (at the point of time of drinking tea) -- so why is that a reason to drink tea? That makes your sentence illogical from a strict semantic perspective, though your listener will understand your meaning anyway. So the more grammatically appropriate statement would be either

because I was running out of coffee (past continuous: the coffee was not yet completely finished, but stocks were running low)

or

because I had run out of coffee (past perfect tense)

as the test corrected you.

You can even informally use simple past tense as in "I had a cup of tea because I ran out of coffee" but past perfect is the formally correct option.

Paradoxically, past perfect continuous works if you say it first, as in

I had been running out of coffee, so I drank a cup of tea.

This sentence is correct because the construction puts the process of running out of coffee in the past relative to the point in time of making the statement. Equally correct:

I was running out of coffee, so I drank a cup of tea.

I had run out of coffee, so I drank a cup of tea.

(Informal) I ran out of coffee, so I had a cup of tea.

  • do you mean than I'm no longer running out of coffee at the moment of saying that sentence? or at the moment where I had a cup of tea? – famesyasd Apr 21 '18 at 20:47
  • At the time time of drinking the tea: past continuous (was running out) past perfect (had run out) or even simple past (ran out of coffee) conveys correctly that you we're running or had actually run out of coffee at that point. Past perfect continuous, as in "had been running out", however complicates the matter. – English Student Apr 21 '18 at 20:49
  • Oh wait! I think I got it, so do you mean that past perfect continuous does not include the moment/point in its event's domain? – famesyasd Apr 21 '18 at 20:52
  • Okay, nvm, I expressed that wrongly, but I think I got it – famesyasd Apr 21 '18 at 20:53
  • Right: past perfect continuous puts it further in the past and scrambles the technical meaning @famesyasd. It might pass in colloquial speech but not the strict test of grammatical tenses. Your listener will understand your meaning in either case. – English Student Apr 21 '18 at 20:55
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If you want to say that, you had a cup of tea because there was no coffee left, then you should say - I had a cup of tea because, I had run out of coffee. The past perfect tense implies that an action was completed at some point in the past before something else happened. So, because you had run out of coffee ( the first completed action ) you had to have a cup of tea ( the second completed action ).

I had been running out of coffee, does not convey the idea that, there was no coffee left. It does not emphasize the completion of an event, but rather points out the fact that, the coffee had been decreasing in volume over the course of time, up until the moment when you decided to have a cup of tea. The past perfect progressive puts emphasis on the course or duration of an action taking place before a certain time in the past.

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