The perfect continuous aspect is used for the end of an ongoing action. How is it applicable in the two instances as follows?

  1. I had been working in the office when 9/11 happened. (Here I worked even after the incident. This means the ongoing action never stopped.)

  2. He will be tired when we meet him because he will have been exercising so hard. (Here as well, there is no implication that he will stop his exercise after the meet. That means he may or may not continue his practice.)

Thanks brp7

  • 1
    What's your doubt??
    – Sam
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 15:34
  • 3
    #1 looks highly suspect to me. We'd need a much more complete context (of preceding text) to be definitive, but almost certainly it would be better to say I was working in the office when 9/11 happened. Note that #2 carries the very strong implication that he will have finished exercising by the time we meet him. If that wasn't the intention, it would be ...because he will be exercising so hard (which is "agnostic" as to whether he will stop exercising as soon as we arrive). Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 15:46
  • ...but the semantics of something like I had been living in the UK for several years before I applied for citizenship very strongly implies I continued to live there afterwards. Whereas We had been "living in sin" for several years before we got married obviously entails (forces the interpretation) that we didn't continue living sin after the mentioned activity. And if you say I've been here all day, that obviously can't imply you've left (and probably doesn't imply you're about to leave either). Context is everything, Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 16:08
  • I happened to be at home on 9/11, but I was recently talking about it with a former colleague and she said that they had all stopped work in our office when the shocking news came through. So the first sentence could mean that the writer broke off from that day's work, not that they left their job. Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 16:35
  • @fumblefingers The confusion arises as the perfect continuous aspect is the stopping of an ongoing action. Can we say future perfect continuous expresses some duration of an event before it stops OR another event interrupts it (the first may continue as well) I have made some other examples where the first action may continue. 1) By evening, I will have been practicing for two hours. (By evening, I will have finished two hours of practice, but I will still continue practicing after the evening.) cont.
    – BumbleBee
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 6:03

1 Answer 1


I don't find the past perfect to be idiomatic here:

I had been working in the office when 9/11 happened.

The simple past continuous would be idiomatic there as the ongoing work in the office was interrupted by what happened at a particular moment on the morning of 9/11:

I was working in the office when the attack on 9/11 took place.


I had been working in that office for only three weeks when the attack on the morning of 9/11 took place.

There, the past perfect continuous is used in combination with a time phrase that gives the inchoate time-span definition, and that definition establishes a terminus that precedes the attack that took place.

With he will have been exercising, his exercise will have come to an end either coincident with, or immediately before, their arrival. will be exercising would be used to indicate that the exercise will be ongoing when they arrive.

  • Absolutely agree with you regarding that example. What would you say about the other two examples? Thanks!
    – BumbleBee
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 14:21
  • @brp7 I don't know what you're referring to with "the other two examples". Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 15:17
  • I did not know that you didn't have access to the initial answers and comments. Here we go... 1) By evening, I will have been practicing for two hours. 2) I will have been cutting the grass in my yard for a while when you arrive.
    – BumbleBee
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 15:40
  • Both sentences are idiomatic, although "evening" is not a precise time, so it's a little iffy on the semantic level. Substitute "dinner time" or "bed time" or any other time that is more definite than "evening" and "for two hours" will be more plausible. Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 15:44
  • Does the first one mean I may continue practicing after the evening, and the second one means I may continue cutting the grass after your arrival? Why I am asking is that Perfect Continuous is the stopping of an ongoing action.
    – BumbleBee
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 15:50

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