Verb tenses: past perfect & past perfect progressive

Today I’d like to put forward the subject of perfect tenses, for I just came across the article below, which reports rather plain events in the past through practical examples of verb shift. Check it out:

We use the Past Perfect to express something that happened before another action in the past – for example, “I had read The Lord of the Rings trilogy before I watched the films”, meaning that yes, I watched the films (which happened in the past) but even before watching then, I had already read the books.

However, we sometimes need to talk about an action that started in the past and continued for a while before some other action that occurred in the past. That’s when we should use the Past Perfect Progressive (or Continuous), and this idea of expressing duration before something  in the past can be represented by the timeline below:

(Timeline from

The way I see it, the article by The Post and Courier clearly shows this specific use of the Past Perfect Progressive – it talks about a crash that happened in 2011, but before this crash, other things happened and had some indefinite duration which may have contributed (or not) to the accident.  Now let’s go back to the examples from the article and think about them as sentences which deal with two past aspects each:

Rather than memorising, understand it. And never fear progressive or perfect tenses 😉


Quero falar um pouco de verbos perfeitos (perfect tenses) que usamos para ações no passado, porque hoje dei de cara com artigo abaixo, que trata de acontecimentos passados em uma sequência bem clara, com exemplos práticos de alternância entre os tempos.  Vejam só:

O Past Perfect fala de algo que aconteceu antes de outra ação no passado. Por exemplo,  “I had read The Lord of the Rings trilogy before I watched the films” (“Li a trilogia O Senhor dos Anéis antes de ter visto os filmes”), ou seja, sim, eu assisti aos filmes (ação passada), mas antes mesmo de assistí-los eu já havia lido os livros.

Mas às vezes precisamos falar de algo que começou no passado e durou um certo tempo antes de outra ação ter ocorrido no passado. É nestes momentos que usamos  o Past Perfect Progressive (ou Continuous) e esta ideia de um período que durou antes de um evento passado pode ser representada pela linha do tempo abaixo:

(Linha do tempo:

Acredito que o artigo do The Post and Courier mostra claramente este uso específico do  Past Perfect Progressive – ele fala sobre um acidente ocorrido em 2011, mas antes de o acidente de fato acontecer, outras coisas aconteceram e duraram algum tempo, coisas que podem  ter contribuído (ou não) para as causas do acidente. Voltemos aos exemplos retirados do artigo, agora pensando neles como sentenças que se referem, cada uma delas, a dois aspectos no passado:

Não memorize – compreenda. E nunca tema os tempos perfeitos ou contínuos 😉

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About Isabella Ferraro

English examiner, teacher and frustrated ballerina. Geek, gauche, obsessed with books, podcasts and the web. Diligent professional and blogger, tho. More info below blog's header.
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6 Responses to Verb tenses: past perfect & past perfect progressive

  1. Pingback: Teaching Grammar : Past Perfect Continuous | English Post

  2. Pingback: Verbs-Past Perfect/Progressive | Victoria ELD

  3. victoriaeld says:

    Very nicely put. This is a very difficult verb tense to teach to second language learners. If you don’t mind, I’m going to link my students to this page, as you have done a much better job of explaining it than me. Thank you once again for your efforts.


    • Hello, Victoria (is it your name, btw? I couldn’t find it anywhere). Of course I don’t mind your linking to my blog, quite the contrary, I’m flattered by your compliment and it’s gonna be great to have more people and opinions coming over 🙂
      I strongly believe that many language items are better learned when exposed in their authentic context and use. It works for many students, although we’ll always have some of them asking for auxiliaries, the name of the tenses, etc., which aren’t necessarily important.
      Anyway, tell me more about your students, how do you like teaching English in Seoul?

      • Charles says:

        Actually, my name is Charles. Victoria is my (soon to be) duaghter’s name. I started the site a few weeks ago for my students. I have been teaching in Seoul for about 5 years.
        I also agree that language should be delivered to students as naturally as possible. It’s always challenging to burst the bubble of the “grammar gurus” in class. Anyway, I’m new to blogging, so I’m open to any advice you may have.


      • Hello again, Charles, and welcome to blogging – I’m sure it will be a positive reference of your work. Moreover, it’s another way of inpiring and getting in touch with your students – so, you score and I’m likewise open to any of your advice 🙂
        Best of luck for you and Victoria,

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