The Present Perfect Continuous Tense
The present perfect continuous tense is formed by adding the present participle to the present perfect tense of the verb to be: has/have + been + – ing.
- She has been sleeping.
- We have been praying.
This tense is used to express:
an action that began in the recent past and is still continuing or has just finished in the present:
- Mary has been going to school.
- Who has been crying in this house?
- We have been waiting (for you, for an hour, or since morning).
The Past Perfect Tense (also called the pluperfect)
This tense is formed with had + past participle:
had + sung = had sung. (She had sung.)
had + worked = had worked. (She had worked.)
had + slept = had slept. (She had slept.)
The past perfect tense is used to express:
I) an action that took place at some time in the remote past before another action occurred:
The pluperfect is, therefore, used to describe the first of two actions/events that happened in the past:
- He had spoken before I spoke. had (Past), spoken (Perfect), spoke (Past)
- Before I went to school, Mother had gone to work. went (past), had (past), gone (perfect)
Note that the function of the past perfect tense here is to show the priority of one event to another or to point out the action that took place first in a sequence of events. Usually, where the pluperfect is used, it is followed by the simple past tense in a loose sentence. But in a periodic sentence, the simple past may precede the pluperfect.
II) that two events did not take place simultaneously, and thus, eliminate the confusion of one suspecting that the two actions/events occurred at once:
- When Kelvin had eaten his food, he sat up. (Clearly, the eating took place before the sitting up.)
- When Kelvin ate his food, he sat up. (Did Kelvin sit up as he ate his food?)
III) an action that was completely finished before the second action started:
- We had run indoors when it started raining.
IV) reported speech whose direct speech form contains either present perfect tense or past tense introduced by a reporting verb in the past tense:
- Ebele said, “I have been to Lagos.” (Direct speech)
- Ebele said that she had been to Lagos. (Reported speech)
- Okezie said, “I spoke to her.” (Direct speech)
- Okezie said that he had spoken to her. (Reported Speech)
V) an action viewed in retrospect from a point in time in the past, especially in narratives:
- The trauma descended on Nneka when she was ten years old. It was barely three years after her mother had packed out from her father’s compound … Nneka had not met Emeka by then.
The Past Perfect Continuous Tense
This tense is formed with had been + the present participle:
Had been + speaking: (Obi) had been speaking.
Had been + sweeping: (Ada) had been sweeping.
Remember that stative verbs are not normally used in the continuous form [except want and wish when they mean expecting and hoping for respectively] and that the present participle being is neither used in the present perfect continuous nor in the past perfect continuous tense. Both the present perfect continuous tense and the past perfect continuous tense have no passive forms; that is, they cannot be translated into passive voice.
The past perfect continuous tense is used to describe:
I) an action that began before the time of speaking in the past and continued up to that time or just ended before that time:
- I was told that Obika had been expecting your letter.
II) a repeated action in the past perfect:
Okike had been trying to swim across the river. (i.e. Okike had tried several times to swim across the river.)