Given the following sentence:

Vivian _____________ computer lessons for very long so she wasn't sure how to use the Internet.

I put hadn't had in missing place but the answer was hadn't been having. Why is it so?

  • It is advisable to wait at least a day or so before accepting an answer. Please read this post for more information.
    – user3395
    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:34
  • @userr2684291 okay Dec 31, 2018 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


It is often the case that the choice of whether to use a continuous form is a stylistic choice, depending on how the speaker (or writer) wishes to represent the temporal relationships involved.

If you were just talking about Vivian's experience as a bald fact, you could equally say "Vivian had had computer lessons" or "Vivian had been having computer lessons". These would both be completely grammatical, idiomatic, and accurate, the only difference being whether you chose to put a bit of emphasis on the continuing nature of the lessons, or chose to present them as a single (though lengthy) event.

What makes the difference here is the adverbial phrase "for very long". This makes the continuous "hadn't been having computer lessons" much more natural than the punctual "hadn't had computer lessons".

In fact, I find "Vivian hadn't had computer lessons for very long" unclear, because it suggests to me that it was written by somebody who wasn't a native speaker, and I would wonder if they meant to say "hadn't been having computer lessons for very long" (meaning that the lessons had started recently) or "hadn't had computer lessons for so long" (which, with emphasis on the "so", would mean "it was such a long time since she last had computer lesson").

  • Does for very long sort of imply recency (regardless of reference time)? If not, i.e. if it's equivalent to for a very long time, the past perfect simple makes just as much sense, without the extra implication that the situation had continued into some time in the past.
    – user3395
    Dec 31, 2018 at 12:01
  • 1
    @userr2684291: yes, I think it does imply recency (with respect to the temporal focus). It also implies continuity over that period. I don't think it is equivalent to for a very long time: it's much more restricted in its use. It's also restricted to negative contexts, which the longer phrase isn't.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 31, 2018 at 12:27

This is an awkward question because it is framed in a certain context and, depending on the context, more than one answer is possible.

Let's assume that Vivian is still having lessons but that at school last week she wasn't sure how to use the internet. Then we could say:

Vivian hasn't been having computer lessons for very long so she wasn't sure how to use the internet.

That's to say: We use the present perfect continuous because she continues to take lessons and the past tense to describe her experience last week.

But if Vivian stopped taking lessons years ago and we are talking about her school days, we might say:

Vivian hadn't been having......

because we are talking about a learning phase that was completed in the past.

Many native English speakers would simply say that Vivian hadn't had... as you did and nobody would even notice so your choice can easily be excused even if your teacher marked it wrong.


This is because someone who tries to learn computer, should take computer lessons in span of time. So the action of attending the classes happens several times, not in a one session class.

  • 2
    I'm sorry, but this does not address the question. The fact that the activity lasts over several sessions means that it is possible to se the continuous form: it does not imply that you must or should use it. It is very often a stylistic choice whether to use a continuous form or not. In this case it is the for very long that makes the continuous form preferable.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:33
  • well, I answered based on the question and its meaning. Otherwise I am agree with your point. Dec 31, 2018 at 11:47

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