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1a) He went through her phone and found out she'd been lying to him all the time.

1b) He went through her phone and found out she was lying to him all the time.

2a) My friend asked me to watch that film and made me realize what I'd been missing.

2b) My friend asked me to watch that film and made me realize what I was missing.

What's the difference here and what's more correct and natural?

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3 Answers 3

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The past perfect and past perfect continuous talk of a time before a past event. You can think of this as something happening in the past of the past, i.e. further back in time than the past, before the past if you like. When you say "I found out", this is in the simple past, therefore to talk about the time before you did that, you need to use a past perfect form "that she had been lying" or "she had lied", because the lying happened before you went through her phone.

Note that in informal speech you may hear some native English speakers ignore this rule. That doesn't mean it's correct though.

Note also that it would be better to use "all along" rather than "all the time". She had been lying all along. This is a common collocation. "All along" means "all the time, from the beginning".

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  • Why do you mention past perfect? None of the OP's sentences use it.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 10:05
  • @JavaLatte The past perfect continuous is a past perfect form.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 10:21
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"Went" and "asked" are each simple past tense, and they set the context for the rest of the sentence, which must be from the point of view of when the "went" or "asked" happened.


1b) He went through her phone and found out she was lying to him all the time.

So, from that perspective, "was lying" indicates something that is happening in the current time; she is lying right now. But the phone shows nothing about what is happening now, only in the past. These two tenses don't get along here, and this sentence thus sounds awkward.

1a) He went through her phone and found out she'd been lying to him all the time.

She had been lying in the past, not now, and that fits correctly with the given perspective.


The second example is almost the same, but not quite. "I had been missing" is correct for the same reason as above, but "I was missing" could also be correct, depending upon context:

a) … made me realize what I'd been missing. So we arranged to watch it next week.

This is like the first example.

The "*had been missing" is in the relative past, while the "missed" and "arranged are in the relative present. They fit together correctly.

b) … made me realize what I was missing. So we watched the film right away.

In case "b" though, "I was missing" is in the speaker's present. But that's okay here, because the "we watched is in the same tense as the "made me" and happens in the same time sequence.


One trick you can do is to reword the sentence into the perspective of the initial context:

1a) He goes through her phone and finds out she has been lying to him all the time.

1b) He goes through her phone and finds out she is lying to him all the time.
[The "is" is present tense, but he doesn't know she is lying right now. so this is wrong.]

2a) My friend asks me to watch that film and makes me realize what I have been missing.

2b) My friend asks me to watch that film and makes me realize what I am missing, so we watch it right away.

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  • thank you very much but I still had one doubt I saw someone using "I was tired because I was working all day" if it's in present we would use have been so why didn't he used "had been" there and used "was" instead? can I also do that with these sentences? Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 18:56
  • @RomyLearner, in that case it could be part of "When I worked for Microsoft I was tired because I was working all day", or "When I got home I was tired because I had been working all day.". Context is always important. ¶ Changing the tense: "Now that I work for Microsoft I am tired because I work all day." and "When I get home I am tired because I have been working all day". Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 21:52
  • OK thanks bro but I think that present trick does not apply when there's duration in past because people often use like " it was raining for 2 hours or she was waiting for 5 mins" so what's the difference between it was raining for 2 hours and it had been raining for 2 hours" I am really ashamed of asking a lot of questions, but that thing was confusing me so what's the difference Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 23:57
  • @RomyLearner, again, context is essential. A sentence like "It was raining for 2 hours." could be correct, or it could be wrong. Without the context it's simply a statement that doesn't really mean anything to anyone. Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 0:04
  • 1a) When he found out what she did he broke up with her. 1b) When he found out what she had done he broke up with her. thank you very much last question can you tell me what's correct and are both correct if yes then what's the difference I don't want to post another question just for 1 sentence so can you tell me? Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 0:14
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1a) ... she had been lying all the time

This is past perfect continuous, which describes something that happened continuously before some event in the past, in this case she had been lying to him over a period of time before he went through her phone.

1b) ... she was lying all the time

This is past continuous which it usually describes what was going on at the time something else (going through her phone) happened. Adding "all the time" emphasises that it had been going on for a long time, and we can probably infer that this occurred before he went through the phone.


2a) is past perfect continuous, and indicates that the speaker had been missing something (presumably the pleasure of watching the film) up until their friend persuaded them to watch the film.

2b) is past perfect, which describes what was going on (they were missing something) around the time that they watched the film.

For something that a person had missed up until a particular event, past perfect continuous is formally correct, though as this NGram graph shows, in recent years, the phrase "what I was missing" has increasingly been used about something that was absent from somebody's life until a particular event.

Here is an example:

I didn't know what I was missing until I got the chance to be out on my own - Ajax's harpy holiday - Mychal Daniels 2016

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