They had played football // They had been playing football

gachette71

Senior Member
Belgium - French
I've got this sentence I would like to understand better.

Context : "The two boys came into the house. They had a football game and were both very tired."

I have to give write the next sentence. The answer given is "They had been playing football." But is "They had played football." also right ?

Does it depend on the fact we insist on either the consenquence or the length of the activity ?

Thank you for your explanation.
 
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  • KenInPDX

    Senior Member
    US English
    I don't think "They had played football" is correct here. It is a correct grammatical form in and of itself, but it just doesn't sound right, and I am trying to figure out why.

    I think it is because you are referring back to the activity, which was an activity that was ongoing for a period of time. It answers the question, "what were they doing."

    You would use the "they had played football" in a context such as this:

    "Because he had played football in high school, he understood the fine points of the game."

    I think I can explain this in terms of French, but I will have to send you a private e-mail as this is an English only forum.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have played football refers to playing football at least once in my life before now
    I have been playing football refers to playing football during a period of time leading up to the present.

    In your example, gachette, only they had been playing football is correct, because we are referring to a recent period of time leading up to the present, no to a point in the (possibly distant) past.
     

    Mr.X Senior

    Senior Member
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)
    "They had played football." is the past perfect to present the action which just complected ( not so long ago from the sentence )

    "They had been playing football." is the past perfect continuous which mean for a period of time before something else happened.

    So, I believe both are possible.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    "They had played football." is the past perfect to present the action which just complected ( not so long ago from the sentence )

    "They had been playing football." is the past perfect continuous which mean for a period of time before something else happened.

    So, I believe both are possible.
    I cannot really agree with you, Mr.X Senior. Have a look at the same boys but in the present:

    Context: The two boys come into the house.... They are very tired.

    Mother: You look tired. What have you been doing?
    Boys: We have been playing football.

    I believe the phrase in bold is of great significance here; you can see the effects (red faces, sweat on their foreheads, etc.) In other words, they are tired because they have been playing the game.

    Now if you 'take the boys' to the past, you have to change the present perfect continous into the past perfect continous.

    In your example, gachette, only they had been playing football is correct, because we are referring to a recent period of time leading up to the present, no to a point in the (possibly distant) past.
    I think se16teddy explains it really well.
     

    gachette71

    Senior Member
    Belgium - French
    OK, I think I've understood.

    Could I say that "continuity" and "ininterruption" of the action up to that particular moment in the past are the keys to understand it ?
     

    Mr.X Senior

    Senior Member
    Burmese & English (2nd Language)
    Hi audiolaik,

    Context: The two boys come into the house.... They are very tired.

    Mother: You look tired. What have you been doing?
    Boys: We have been playing football.

    According to your context, the boy is still playing football ( present perfect continous ).
    My explaination was past perfect continous which just completed before 2nd action , which the boy entered the house and answered his mother's quesiton.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    According to your context, the boy is still playing football ( present perfect continous ).
    How do you know that, Mr.X Senior? Off the top of my head, the present perfect continous tense is used for an action that bagan in the past and is still continuing, or has just finished.


    My explaination was past perfect continous which just completed before 2nd action , which the boy entered the house and answered his mother's quesiton.
    Yes, but the sentence contains this were very tired phrase, which, in my humble opinion, is of the essence. What about such a situation:

    You visit a friend of yours; he/she opens the door, but you notice that something is wrong: their eyes are red and wet. What would the friend say:

    a) I have cried.
    b) I have been crying.

    I opt for answer b. If I were to report the situation, let's say, two days later, I would definitely use the past perfect continous tense.

    EDIT: Look at the two sentences*:

    He had been painting the door. (The paint was probably still wet.)

    He had painted the door. (Perhaps recently, perhaps some time ago.)

    * A Practical English Grammar, Thomson, Martinet
     
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