I am struggling with an example sentence (Fill the gap type of exercise):

When I arrived, everybody was sitting round the table and talking. Their mouths were empty, but their stomachs were full. >>They had been eating/They had eaten. <<

I would pick past perfect simple (They had eaten), however the correct solution is past perfect continuous.

Can you explain why?

  • Could it be the verb to eat connotes a long process?
    – Mrt
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


The perfect progressive aspect best captures the sense that they had recently finished the process (of eating). The perfect aspect implies that they ate and that the eating still affects them, but they could have eaten at home...

I would reserve 'simple' for verbs that are present/past but not perfect or progressive. (I like 'progressive' over 'continuous'; continuously eating is unhealthy.)

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