In the book "Advanced Grammar in Use", it states:

The past perfect continuous is mainly used in written texts and is less common in speech.

What is the reason for that and how do people use the past perfect continuous and past perfect properly?

  • For us to understand what exactly you'd like to know that wasn't explained in your book, could you add an example or two from it.
    – Victor B.
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 11:22
  • I can see what the book means when it says the past perfect continuous is mostly used in written texts - take this example: "He had been writing for several weeks" - this seems natural in a book, where the narrator is telling a story (as such). However, in everyday speech we'd probably just say something along the lines of "He'd (He had) spent several weeks writing" - the past perfect.
    – 13509
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 16:05
  • Thank you for your help! For example, "'A spokesman for the company asid Morgan han't been working for them long and wasn't familiar with safety procedures: 'It was an unfortunate incident...'"
    – 02l4
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 23:53
  • In that sentence, "hadn't been working for them long" works, because it is was a continuous event in the past - (i.e. He had been working for them for 3 days). If it helps, the past perfect continuous is used to express duration of an action, and the past perfect is used to express completion.
    – 13509
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 8:47

2 Answers 2


As a rule, you can generally expect the past perfect continuous to be used when expressing the duration of an action, or specific time period. For example:

  • He had been talking for 5 minutes

  • They had been running all morning

  • He had been working on the book for several years

The past perfect is generally used to express the completion of an action, (sometimes in relation to another event in the past):

  • Thomas had never tried gravy before he went to the restaurant

  • I had finished all the work

  • We hadn't remembered to save the document

  • You could also add your assumption to your answer to spot the first part of the OP's question, "What is the reason for that".
    – Abbasi
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 5:32

Past perfect continuous is uncommon both in speech and in writing, and maybe more uncommon in speech. The reasons for that may be debated, and I can think of the following:

  1. People talk about continued activities in the past less often than they write about them (?)
  2. It takes more mental effort to use past perfect continuous compared to the simpler tenses, so people use it when they have enough time to think. Speech is less planned than writing. (?)
  3. Writing stays and speech goes away. It is easy to find the text "had been" by searching a document or the web, even if it's rare. It is difficult do recall when someone used a rare construction in speech unless it has been recorded. Most speech is not recorded. (?)

I'm not sure about #1 and #2, but I think #3 is likely a good reason. Of course there may be other explanations.

Here's a PPC phrase we encounter more in oral communication (well, kind of) than in written text: "It's been a hard day's night and I've been working like a dog". Would that sound unnatural in casual speech?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .