Speaking Day 13: Past Perfect Continuous

I need to make a shorter video about the Past Perfect Continuous.

Please check back later for a shorter version.

[But this video from the Perfect Bootcamp reviews Present Perfect Simple/Continuous and Past Perfect Simple, so it is still useful).

See list of links below.

This nice activity shows the difference between US and UK pronunciation of ‘ah’ words.


Please note that the Past Perfect Continuous is NOT common and if it confuses you, just skip this lesson for the time being.

  • Just like the Past Perfect Simple, it is only used in specific situations (usually to give background/explanation to a story).
  • Just like the Present Perfect Continuous, the emphasis is on continuous action, but often there is not much difference.

Why do you need the continuous (progressive) tense?

1. To describe actions in progress

Look at these 2 sentences. What is the difference?

  1. I’m tired because I‘ve been working all day.
  2. I was tired because I had been working all day.

The only difference between Present vs Past Perfect is that Present Perfect (Sentence 1) explains a current situation (Why is she tired?) whereas Past Perfect (Sentence 2) explains a past situation (Why was she tired?).

2. To describe repeated actions.

Look at these 2 sentences. What is the difference?

  1. I’m so upset that they’ve cancelled the IELTS test. I’ve been preparing for months!
  2. I was so upset when they cancelled the IELTS test last year. I’d been preparing for months!

Again, the only difference here is the Present situation (I’m upset) and the Past situation (I was upset).

3. To explain situations

  1. Her eyes are red – it‘s clear that she has been crying.
  2. Her eyes were red – it was clear that she had been crying.

In the IELTS Speaking Test, the Past Perfect Continuous is really useful for telling stories (giving background information). 

For more practice, check out the Perfect Grammar Course Week 2.


Get more practice with Past Perfect on these sites:

Agenda English (very simple – choose the correct option from a list)

A guide to learning English (very simple practice with support – type the answers)

Perfect Grammar (type the answers)

English Grammar Online (type the answers)

Past Perfect Simple vs Continuous (type the answers)

English Page (type answers in a story)

English Page (All the PERFECT tenses that we’ve done so far!)

English Page (as above, but in a story)

SpeakSpeak (do this one in a week’s time to see what you remember)

Vulnerable vowels –  /aː/ or ‘ahhhh’

Is this sound difficult?

This sound isn’t too difficult, but it has the usual problem of the ‘r’ in the spelling [car, heart, apart] but not in the pronunciation.

Although some accents DO pronounce the ‘r’ (USA, Scotland, Ireland), it is very soft, and still a LONG sound.

North Americans use this LONG sound where UK people have a short sound e.g. ‘cot’ in the UK is pronounced ‘ka:t/ in the US (watch the video to hear the difference).

Doctors often ask children to say ‘ahhhh’ when looking in their mouth, because this sound requires a wide open mouth (compared with the short /a/, which is the same sound with a small open mouth).

Notice the difference when you say ‘can’(short) and ‘can’t’ (long).

List of common /a:/ words

As we saw in the video, most long /a:/ words take the ‘ar’ spelling. Compare this sound with the short ‘a’ e.g. cat vs cart.


Pronunciation of the long /a:/ sound IELTS with Fiona
Pronunciation of long /a:/ vs short

Compare these long /a:/ words with their short  equivalent

Intermediate Level

hat – heart

cat – cart

fam – farm

ban – barn

bad – bard

cabs – carbs

had – hard

back – bard

Upper- Intermediate Level

fat – fart

jazz – jars

ham – harm

match – march

chat – chart

lack – lark

pat – part

Advanced Level

badge – barge

hash – harsh

lad – lard

lax – larks

mash – marsh

patch – parch

shack – shark

NB these ‘ar’ words do NOT have the long /a:/. They have the long /or/ (see previous lesson).

One syllable

  • war, warm, ward

Two syllables

  • award, reward, quarter

The letters ‘m’ and ‘n’

When ‘n’ comes before b, d, p or m, it’s difficult to get your lips in the right position quickly , so the sound changes to ‘m’ make this easier in fast speech (‘assimilation’).

Listen to how people say ‘Green Park’ in the BBC Learning English video on YouTube.

Find out more about assimilation here (we’ll do more practice later in the course).

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