Past perfect

Level: intermediate

The past perfect is made from the verb had and the past participle of a verb:

I had finished the work.
She had gone.

The past perfect continuous is made from had been and the -ing form of a verb:

had been working there for a year.
They had been painting the bedroom.

The past perfect is used in the same way as the present perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present. We use the past perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past:

When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

For this use, we often use the past perfect continuous:

She didn't want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.
Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.

  • for something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point:

He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.
He had written three books and he was working on another one.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past and is important at a later time in the past

I couldn't get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn't at home. She had gone shopping.

We often use expressions with for and since with the past perfect:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there for ten years
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.
 

We do not normally use the past perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the past perfect simple instead:

Up until that moment, I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in astrology.

Past perfect

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Past perfect and past simple

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Past perfect and hypotheses

We can also use the past perfect to make hypotheses about the past (when we imagine something). See these pages:

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Hello SpireUpDown,

The position of the adverb is quite flexible, but it does not generally come before the auxiliary verb. The most common positions are either before the main verb or at the end of the sentence, after the verb phrase, the object and any adverbials). For example:

He had loudly declared his loyalty.

He had declared his loyalty loudly.

not

He loudly had declared his loyalty.

 

They were slowly walking down the street.

They were walking down the street slowly.

not

They slowly were walking down the street.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par zahret.alnargs le sam 28/05/2016 - 21:33

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Hello, everybody . Thanks for your great effort . Could you explain the difference between : I had lost my key . I have lost my key . Thank you anyway .

Hello zahret.alnargs,

Both sentences require a context to be fully understood.

The second sentence is an example of the present perfect. It describes an event (losing the keys) which happened before the present moment and is still relevant (I still haven't got my keys).

The second sentence is an example of the past perfect. It describes an event (losing the keys) which happened before a past moment and which was still relevant then (the speaker still didn't have the keys at that past moment). However, without some context which tells us when that past moment was we cannot be more specific. The past perfect is common in narratives, where the whole story is in the past and the past perfect describes something before an event in the story.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Anniu le sam 28/05/2016 - 10:11

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hello, I couldn't give you proper time. sorry for that. is it right?

Soumis par Kirk le sam 28/05/2016 - 10:29

En réponse à par Anniu

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Hello Anniu,

When apologising, 'about that' is normally used after 'sorry': 'sorry about that'. I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand what the first sentence means. By 'proper time' do you mean 'enough time', as in 'enough attention'? If you explain the context a bit, we can help you more effectively.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par espe le ven 27/05/2016 - 21:11

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Hello 'LearnEnglish Team', I am confused by the following example found in another English course: "Stella called me from Nottingham the day before yesterday. I hadn't heard from her for ages. Not since she left university.". Why not say "... Not since she had left university."? The first event in chronological order was 'leaving university' followed by the phase of 'not hearing from her' followed by the event of "speaking to each other on the phone". In the recommended form above the first (oldest) event is in the past simple, the second (intermediate) in the past perfect and the third (latest) again in the past simple.

Hello espe,

You could certainly say 'had left' and in a formal style or situation when precision is important, then it would be better than 'left'. But in informal speech, people tend to choose the easier or shortest form that will make sense, and in this case that is 'left'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Anniu le dim 22/05/2016 - 12:58

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I read this book last year. I have read this book. Difference??

Hello Anniu,

The first sentence is in the past simple and describes a completed past event at a concrete time. You can read more about the past simple here.

The second sentence is in the present perfect and describes an event which is at an unstated past time but which has a present result or effect. You can read more about the present perfect here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par innocentashish420 le mar 17/05/2016 - 15:34

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When I reached there the shop had closed. When I reached there the shop had been closed. Which one is correct?

Hello innocentashish420,

Neither is incorrect. The first sentence describes the state of the shop (not open). The second sentence is a passive form and describes the action of an unknown person (someone closed the shop).

You can learn more about passive forms here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

That is not entirely correct. While it is commonly used, the first sentence is actually incorrect. Had is a past tense action verb, describing an action (in this case, closed) that was performed by the subject (in this case, store). Since a store is an inanimate object, it cannot perform an action. Therefore, the correct phrase would be 'when I got there the store was closed'. This is the correct way to describe the state of the subject. While it is true that the gist of the original sentence is the same, it is still not correct.

Soumis par Vivianzhng le mar 17/05/2016 - 08:53

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Please help me with this part, in quotations below, on the use of past perfect. "We use the past perfect to talk about the past in conditions, hypotheses and wishes: I would have helped him if he had asked. It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost? I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month." My question is, are these rules based on conventions? Would it be wrong is I said, "I would have helped him if he asked." OR "I wish I didn't spend so much money last month."

Hello Vivian,

You can find a detailed explanation of how to use these forms in conditional sentences on our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages. I'd also recommend looking at our Wish and If only page. In all three of the sentences you ask about, strictly speaking, the past perfect is the best form, though it's true that sometimes people use the past simple instead. It can, however, cause confusion in some contexts, so I'd recommend using the past perfect form when it's the best form for what you mean.

By the way, please post your questions just once. We usually just answer just one question per user per day, so we will eventually get to all of your questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par chiang le lun 16/05/2016 - 17:32

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Hi teachers! According to another tutorial of the British Council, “we ONLY use the past perfect when we want to refer to a past that is earlier than another time in the narrative.” http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/quick-grammar/past-perfect#sthash.1QXn4PTc.dpuf However, in this tutorial, some examples uses past perfect tense alone e.g. “I had finished the work.” “She had gone .” “I couldn’t get into the house. I had lost my keys.” “Teresa wasn’t at home. She had gone shopping.” I’m a bit confused if “present perfect tense” can be used in a sentence without “simple present tense” be used in the other half of the sentence.

Hello chiang,

The first two examples were used to show how the past perfect is formed; they would only make sense in context. When the explanation you quoted says 'earlier than another time in the narrative', the 'narrative' refers to the context, which includes the sentences before and after. There must be some kind of reference to a past time in the context for the past perfect to make sense.

Your other question about the present perfect and present simple is a different issue. Have you seen our talking about the present page? I think that might answer your question, but if not, please ask us again there. The more specific your question is – for example, if you write an actual example sentence that you're unsure about – the better we'll be able to help you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

typo above: I’m a bit confused if “PAST perfect tense” can be used in a sentence without “simple PAST tense” be used in the other half of the sentence.

Hello chiang,

Yes, if the context is appropriate, the past perfect can be used in a sentence where there is no other past tense (including the simple past). For example, imagine that I explain to you that I went to Nepal in 1998. In a separate sentence, I could say 'But I had already been there.' Since I already referred to 1998 in the previous sentences, the past perfect is appropriate in the sentence I mentioned.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par buguniao le mer 03/02/2016 - 10:08

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Hi,teachers.Could you tell me the different meanings between the following two sentences.And I have known the difference here is the difference between the past simple and the past perfect.But if they are translated in Chinese, they are the same chinese characters .So,please explain the different meanings of them in English for me please.Or just tell me the difference of their focusing on.Thanks in advance. 1.He wondered why they had invited him. 2.He wondered why they invited him.

Hi buguniao,

It is very hard to answer this question without knowing the context in which the sentences are used. Quite often, we have a choice of past simple or present perfect, and he context is crucial in determining if there is any difference between them.

Here, the first sentence would suggest to me that he is at the event. The past perfect here suggests that there is some kind of result at the time of speaking - i.e. that he has accepted the invitation. The second sentence is more neutral - it is simply a statement about his thought processes, or it might be about a general habit (of inviting him regularly) rather than a single time. However, without the context this is not clear.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par sofianzoabi le jeu 10/12/2015 - 22:33

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could anyone please help me? I'm having difficulties understanding the difference between these two examples, which by the way were used at the explanation above. 1-She didn’t want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life. 2-She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life. Does sentence (1) suggests that the person is still living in Liverpool or what? thank you in advance.

Hello sofianzoabi,

Both 1 and 2 indicate that 'she' was still living in Liverpool and that she didn't want to leave it. The continuous form often puts emphasis on the ongoing nature of an event, but here there is really no real difference between the two sentences due to the phrase 'all her life'. You might want to look at the following pages, which are about present perfect simple and continuous – although those refer to a different time, the difference between the simple and continuous forms is the same as the difference between past perfect simple and continuous forms:

Present Perfect Simple and Present Perfect Continuous
Music Scene 2 - Language Focus
Shakespeare Scene 2 Language Focus

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Angie0721 le dim 08/11/2015 - 03:55

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Hello, Can I check if these sentence are correct? 1. It is the first charity event that I have participated and showed my support. 2. It is the first charity event that I have participated IN and showed showed my support FOR. 3. It is YOUR first charity event which I have participated and showed my support. (I'm trying to say that this is his first event which I have participated. But I think it sounds weird I use "your") So sorry, I'm pretty new to here, I am still exploring around, pls let me know if I'm not posting at the right page or anything.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 08/11/2015 - 12:45

En réponse à par Angie0721

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Hello Angue0721,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! I'm afraid we don't provide a checking service like this. We're happy to explain particular points of grammar if something on our pages is not clear, but if we tried to check sentences for our users then we'd have no time to maintain the site or add new material.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par janani20 le sam 07/11/2015 - 06:16

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Dear Sir, I have wrote few sentence bellow, please correct me where do I need to improve... 'After I had woken up , I did yoga, I had had a bath and I eaten breakfast and also I had gone to English tuition to improve my communication skills. here i don't know how to join the past perfect tense and simple past.. Thanks

Soumis par janani20 le sam 07/11/2015 - 06:07

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Hello Sir, I am confused, please clarify my doubts. 'He started playing football when he was 9 years old. He became the best strike in the country when he was only seventeen'. 'He had started playing football when he was 9 years old. He become the best striker in the country when he was only seventeen. here in the first sentence ' he started playing' noun followed by one past verb and present verb, and in second sentence ' he had started playing' noun followed by three verbs. and ' became the best strike ' and he become best striker ' all these are making confusing...

Soumis par Fosterre04 le dim 20/09/2015 - 21:42

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Hello, I am a native speaker and a TEFL teacher and even I am struggling with this! Could I just ask you why on the exercise the sentence 'If I had known I probably never would have come' matches with the 'use' talking about past conditions and not up until the point of reporting. I would have thought that because 'come' is present tense that it would have been up until the point of reporting. I really want to get to grips with this as much as I can for my students. I also would like to ask how often you guys think that in modern day colloquial speech we actually use the past perfect. From speaking to other native speakers, many people seem to think it is only really used now in literature and occasionally in more formal speech.

Soumis par Peter M. le lun 21/09/2015 - 06:45

En réponse à par Fosterre04

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Hello Fosterre04,

The 'if' clause in the sentence represents a condition - as in most conditional sentences. The 'not knowing' part does not necessarily continue up to the present. It is a state which was true at the point of decision (to go) but may have changed at any time after that. All we can be sure of is that when the speaker decided to go he or she did not know. We cannot say if that lack of knowledge continued.

'Come' here is a not present tense. It is the irregular past participle of the verb 'come', used in a modal expression: 'would have come'. If we use a different verb you can see it is a past participle:

would have seen

would have gone

would have wanted

The past perfect is used to connect past events to one another in logical ways. It requires for the events to have been considered together and related together in our mind, so it is a verb form which lends itself to writing and narratives. However, I do not think it is quite as unusual as you suggest.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sourav Saha le sam 11/07/2015 - 06:50

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Sir, Will you please clarify the difference in situation among the sentences: 1."I had finished the work." 2."I have finished the work." 3."I finished the work."

Soumis par Sourav Saha le sam 11/07/2015 - 23:39

En réponse à par Sourav Saha

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Please clarify the above mentioned context.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 12/07/2015 - 06:54

En réponse à par Sourav Saha

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Hello Sourav Saha,

I'm afraid we can't answer questions as broad as this. These are three different verb forms, each with multiple meanings and uses and each dependent on the context in which they are used. We can help with specific questions, but we simply don't have the time or space to write such long and wide-ranging answers as this.

The forms here are past perfect, present perfect and past simple. You can find pages on all of these forms in the Verbs section of our grammar reference. Please take a look at those pages and then if you have any specific questions we'll be happy to try to help.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sourav Saha le sam 11/07/2015 - 05:44

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Sir, I want to know the difference between the two sentences: "She didn’t want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life." "She has been living in Liverpool all her life." To be more specific I want to know when to use past perfect and present perfect. As far as I have studied the articles it has been written both indicates the work is finished.

Soumis par Kirk le sam 11/07/2015 - 10:00

En réponse à par Sourav Saha

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Hello Sourav,

If you haven't already, you should compare the explanation on our present perfect page with this one and I'd also especially recommend reading through our perfective aspect page. The first sentence is about the past (simple past and past perfect) and the second one is about the present, i.e. she still lives in Liverpool (present perfect).

The present perfect often indicates a finished action, but can also be used to speak about a state that is still true – in your second sentence, 'she' still lives in Liverpool.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par tssang le mar 23/06/2015 - 00:48

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Can you please explain the diference between these two sentenses? 1.She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life. 2.She didn’t want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.

Hello tssang,

We have a page which describes the different between present perfect simple and continuous. These sentences are past perfect, but the distinction is the same. You can find the page here and I am sure it will answer your question very fully.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Marian_Michel le sam 20/06/2015 - 19:03

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Hello , I want to ask which one of these sentences is correct ? -She looks very tried. She had been cleaning the house for a long time. -She looks very tired. She has been cleaning the house for a long time. and I also want to know if they are both correct, what's the difference between them.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 21/06/2015 - 07:40

En réponse à par Marian_Michel

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Hello Marian_Michel,

The second example is correct and shows the relationship between a present state (looking tired) and the past action which caused it (cleaning the house for a long time).

The first example is not correct. The past perfect is used to show relationships between two events in the past, not a present situation and a past action.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello.teacher.why the second example not correct. As i know we use present perfect continues for action started in the past and continued to present.

Hello ronaz2015,

My apologies - I got the examples mixed up and my comments refer to the other examples: the second example is fine; the first example is not. I'll edit the first reply to correct it.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Maggot le jeu 18/06/2015 - 16:13

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Is it correct to say "I had been awake till 7am" or "i was awake till 7am"?

Hello Maggot,

Both can be correct but it depends on the context. The past simple ('was') tells us about an action in the past. The past perfect ('had been') also tells us about an action in the past, but requires another action in the past to which it refers. Perfect forms are only used when relating the time of one action to another time reference. Therefore it may be appropriate to use 'had been', but it will depend on the context.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Soumis par Muhammad Salik le dim 07/06/2015 - 17:24

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Hi kirk Past perfect mostly use with other sentence like indefinite+perfect etc If we use only past perfect sentence Would it mean similar like past indefinite? "She had lost the key" Or "She lost the key"

Soumis par Kirk le mar 09/06/2015 - 07:06

En réponse à par Muhammad Salik

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Hello Muhammad,

It's not possible to say which of these sentences is correct without knowing the context, as both sentences could be used depending on what you want to say. But in general, the past perfect isn't used to refer to a past action unless you want emphasise that it occurred before another past action.

The past simple is used far more often than the past perfect in most contexts. If you read some of the articles in our Magazine or most anywhere on the internet, you can see this for yourself.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Cesar98 le dim 07/06/2015 - 09:24

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Hello, "She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life." How can i determine if she died or not in these sentences?

Soumis par Kirk le lun 08/06/2015 - 08:24

En réponse à par Cesar98

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Hello Cesar98,

There is no direct indication of anyone dying in these sentences. It's possible that the woman being spoken about here is dead in the present, as these sentences speak about the past, but only the context could indicate that.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Shali le lun 25/05/2015 - 00:14

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When do we need to use "had" and "have or ''has"??? I have finished my homework" I had finished my homework" what are the different between these sentences?

Hello Shali,

This is not a question of when to use 'have' and 'had' ('has' is simply the third-person form of 'have') as these are merely auxiliary verbs and part of the verb form. The question is when to use each verb form, and there are two different ones here: the present perfect and the past perfect. Both are examples of perfective forms - you can read more about this here.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Keil13 le mer 06/05/2015 - 01:58

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Hello First I find it hard to to understand the use of the term mutually exclusive ( I will be more than happy to know what you meant by in this context) However P.P and P.P.C are very different in my sense ( I guess that is why one called P.P while the other P.P.C though they might refer to similar situations) That is why I don't understand why they are explained at the same page. If I'm not wrong most if not all of the example sentences above couldn't be formed as P.P.C...for all refers to P.P. So if they are not relevant to P.P.C...I don't understand or see a point to place them together with P.P.C (unless I'm wrong) My quest is due to my lack of using the tenses by rule as I tend to use them by hearing the sentence if it sound right or not in my sense ( while of course the rules are somewhere in the mind but I never manage to learn them by heart) Since I'm not great at grammar and I'm working on manuscript I'm going back to the basic to improve my grammar as much as I can. Since I need a clear cut notion between the two ( P.P&P.P.C) I'm submitting this quest. In an other matter: are you familiar with good Site,School, course...etc. that I can join to to learn a little more about grammar and (book) editing? Thank you for your patient and I hope I don't bother you with this slight confusion...

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 06/05/2015 - 07:23

En réponse à par Keil13

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Hello Kile13,

If two things are mutually exclusive then it means that they must be one or the other, not both at the same time.

Both of these sentences are past perfect:

I had walked the dog before then.

I had been walking the dog before then.

One is past perfect simple, the other past perfect continuous; both are past perfect. The point is that past perfect forms have certain characteristics in common, as described on this page. Continuous forms add another layer of meaning, as described on the page to which I linked in my last answer. A form does not stop being past perfect when it becomes continuous; the continuous aspect adds information about how the action is viewed by the speaker, but does not replace or remove information from the past perfect.

This is the nature of verb forms. They are made up of a verb form showing time reference (past or present in English) with the possible addition of an aspect (perfective and/or continuous). The past perfect continuous is not a different tense; it is a past tense with two aspects. To understand its use you need to understand what extra information the continuous aspect adds, which is on the page I linked to previously. For example, one element of the continuous aspect is incompleteness. Compare:

I had read the book some years before.

I had been reading the book some years before.

In the first sentence the action is completed: the book was finished. In the second sentence we understand that the reading took place but the book was not finished. Both sentences are past perfect, but the continuous aspect adds this extra information.

I hope that clarifies it for you. However, I'm afraid that we're not able to provide this kind of in-depth individual explanation for users because we simply don't have time to do this. Our primary role is to maintain the materials, not to conduct grammar lessons online for individuals. Thus, while I hope that is of use, I won't be able to continue the discussion after this. Feel free to ask any questions you have about the material on the page, but we won't be able to answer questions which ask for, in effect, grammar lessons in the comments sections!

With regard to your other question, the British Council does not comment on or recommend other sites, schools or courses so I'm afraid you'll have to do your own research on that one.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I understand what you explained completely and this is not what I ment. ( I understand the mutually exclusive too even before but I want to be sure) however, I simply think that though the p.p and P.p.c both dealing with the past tense I think that each deserves a page of its own since the very intrinsic difference each of them represent and that is ( I think) for the benefit of us the reader, learner... Concerning your examples I think you missed important aspect of the P.P.c for even the sentence about the dog on P.P.c is correct in the form you describe it it isn't differ from the P.p sentence for in most cases the P.P.c need a comparison sentence to follow for if not it gives the same meaning of the P.P. And you can see it in the second sentence about the book too. By the way you ended both P.p.c sentences you closed the information. I don't think that it's clearly understood in ' I had been reading the book some years before' we can infer that the book hasn't been finished. For the ending of ' some years before' gives the notion that the book was read Completely ( or has been read , I'm not sure) for the use of p.p.C in such case is to give comparison to an other act. "I had read this..." Is complete task. However in ' I had been reading the book some years before' to give the P.P.c its essence it should have been( and I might wrong about it) ' I had been reading the book some years before but yet (have)finished it. Or ' I had been reading the book( continious action) almost to it end but then I remembered I have read it some years before( or something like this). I, my self don't get the notion from your genuine sentence that the reading took place but yet finished. The action (p.p.c) lasted for some time before another action in the past happened.( I had been reading the book some years before but not entirely/ but didn't finish it) might I'm wrong but that is how I have been taught and it makes more sense to me...if I'm completely wrong and I appreciate you to stand on this part (of how the sentence is ending) then I need to start my schooling again and change my sense.