A sentence from the Advanced Grammar in Use by Cambridge University Press:

During the previous week, I had been to the gym every evening

It suggests that perhaps sometimes we can use past perfect for repeated activity in the past. With this in mind I wonder whether the following sentences would be correct:

  1. I had been to the gym 3 times during the previous week
  2. I had taken pills every 4 hours yesterday
  3. I had taken pills 3 times yesterday.
  • Past Perfect in your context implies nothing at all about "repeated activity". It would be just as valid to use it with, say, During the previous week, I had been to the gym only once. Or even ...had got married for the first time. Commented May 12, 2018 at 16:23

2 Answers 2


When you say something like

I had been to the gym three times the previous month.

you're summing up, giving the cumulative number of visits, or expressing an aggregate experience as of the past reference time, the implicit temporal origo—you're not referring to action as repeated activity.

I had been there many a time but never saw her there even once.

A wooden paraphrase: As of some unspecified time in the past, your life experience included your having been there often. You are not referring to the repeated visits individually as repetitive actions. For that sense you would use past perfect progressive/continuous:

I had been to the gym often the previous month in order to burn off a few pounds.

I had been visiting the gym frequently during the previous month in order to burn off a few pounds.

The "facts on the ground" are identical. But with the past perfect, the month's total visits is emphasized, and with the past perfect continuous, the recurrence is emphasized.


Actually in English we take pills or medication, not eat them.

Otherwise I think the sentences are fine, but I can't think of a context where I would say something like that. The simple past seems more idiomatic:

I took pills every fours hours yesterday.

  • Thank you. Are there any meaning differences between simple and perfect form in such sentences?
    – Karolini
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 15:33
  • @Karolini Yes, the perfect tenses are normally used to establish a temporal relationship between two events -- some action A had occurred before some action B. So "I had taken pills ... before I realized I was allergic to them." But even there I'm inclined to use the past perfect continuous, "I had been taking pills four times every day ..." This context is odd, but there might be a different context where the past perfect sounds fine.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 15:39

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