Past Perfect Progressive in Spanish

Quick Answer

The past perfect progressive tense (el pretérito pluscuamperfecto continuo), also known as the past perfect continuous, is used to talk about an action that started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. Although it is commonly used by native Spanish speakers, it technically does not exist.

How to Form the Past Perfect Progressive Tense

Even though the past perfect progressive is not officially a tense, it is commonly used to express a continuous action that was completed at some point in the past. It is formed by combining the auxiliary verb haber(to have) in the imperfect with the past participle of estar(to be), followed by the gerund of the main action in the sentence.

Past Perfect Progressive Formula

haber in the imperfect tense + past participle of estar + gerund

Let’s take a look at some examples!

Conoció a su esposa en un restaurante en Manhattan, donde había estado trabajando como cocinero por casi 20 años.
He met his wife at a restaurant in Manhattan, where he had been working as a chef for almost 20 years.
Me decepcioné cuando descubrí que mi mejor amiga había estado saliendo con mi ex.
I was disappointed when I discovered that my best friend had been seeing my ex.

We call this type of construction a verbal periphrasis, which is a verbal construction made of two verb forms—a conjugated form and an impersonal form (an infinitive, a present participle, or a past participle). Click here to learn more!

Alternatives to the Past Perfect Progressive Tense

Since the past perfect progressive isn't officially recognized as a tense, let's explore a few more grammatical alternatives.

Alternative #1

The first alternative is to just use the past perfect tense.

For example:

El oficial de aduanas les preguntó cuánto tiempo habían vivido en Dubai.
The customs officer asked them how long they had been living in Dubái
Me preguntaba por qué no nos habíamos hablado con tanta frecuencia como antes.
I wondered why we hadn't been talking as frequently as before.

Alternative #2

To really emphasize the duration of a past action before another action interrupted it, you can use one of the following time expressions:

Time Expression with Hacer

hacía + time + que + verb in the imperfect tense

Time Expression with Llevar

llevar in the imperfect tense + time + gerund

For example:

Hacía tres semanas que viajaba por el mundo cuando perdí mi pasaporte.
I had been traveling the world for three weeks when I lost my passport.
Llevaba 30 años fumando cuando lo dejó.
He had been smoking for 30 years when he quit.

Click here to learn more about time expressions with hacer!

Tense about tenses in Spanish? Never fear! Read about other tenses in Spanish in these articles:

  • First, click here to learn about the present perfect progressive, which is another tense that doesn't technically exist in Spanish!