Have Had vs. Had Had


A lot of my students tell me that they have trouble understanding sentences that contain have had or had had in the same sentence. It seems strange, but it is correct! In this English lesson I’m going to show you how to use these two English grammar tenses correctly.

How Do I Use Have Had?

Let’s begin with have had. This is the present perfect tense. To create this tense with different subjects, we need to conjugate it like this:

I have had
You have had
He has had, she has had, it has had
We have had
They have had

If I were speaking to my native English-speaking friends, I would probably use a contraction.

I’ve had
You’ve had
He’s had, she’s had, it’s had
We’ve had
They’ve had.

Asking Questions Using the Present Perfect

When we ask questions with the present perfect, we commonly do not use contractions. We put the subject in between the have and the had.

Have you had lunch yet?
Has he had the car fixed yet?

However, sometimes we can make a question using a contraction if I use only intonation to make the sentence into a question. Raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence.

You’ve had lunch already?
He’s already had the car fixed?

When Do We Use The Present Perfect Tense?

We use this tense when we are talking about an action or any event that began in the past and it is related to the present. For example:

I’ve had a lot of problems lately.
I’ve had a lot of good luck lately,

Lately is that key word that tells us that this tense is related to the present moment.

More Examples Please!

I’m eating dinner at a friend’s house.
Friend: Gabby, do you want seconds?

I could say:
Gabby: I’ve had enough to eat, thank you so much.

If I’m at an interview:
Interviewer: Tell me about your previous experience.

I could say:.
Gabby: I have had a lot of experience.

Remember that have is a helping verb, and had is the past participle. That’s why it’s correct to use the verb have two times in one sentence.

Now Let’s Talk About Had Had.

This is the past perfect tense. It’s very easy to make, because it is the same for every subject.

I had had
You had had
He/She/It had had
We had had
They had had

You can use a contraction, too.

I’d had
You’d had
He’d had, She’d had, It’d had (It’d had is not commonly used)
We’d had
They’d had

We don’t use contractions with questions, just like the present perfect.

Had you had a lot of English practice before you watched this video?
Had they had breakfast before they went to work?

I could also create a question using intonation, just like with the present perfect.

You’d had a lot of English practice before you watched this video?
They’d had breakfast before they went to work?

When Do We Use the Past Perfect Tense?

We use this tense when we’re describing an action or event that happened in the past before another action or event that happened in the past.

First, the past perfect thing happened:
They had had breakfast…

Then the simple past thing happened
…before they went to work.

But I’ve Never Heard People Use This!

This tense isn’t used much in everyday speech. Most of the time, native English speakers will simply use the simple past tense. Why?

Sometimes it’s just easier to use the past simple, especially if it doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence. However, be careful! There are many situations when the entire meaning of your sentence can change if the past perfect isn’t used.

Another reason this tense may not be used much is that it can be difficult to pronounce when we use contractions. When we speak quickly, the helping verb had (the ‘d) almost disappears.

But if you want to speak correct English, or if you have to take a grammar test, it’s important to know when to use the past perfect!

More Examples Please!

We often use this tense in storytelling.

I was eating dinner at my friend’s house. I was so full! I had had too much to eat, but they kept asking me, “Gabby, do you want seconds?” And I had had so much to eat, I told them, “No thank you, I’ve had enough to eat.”

In my original story, I said, “I’ve had enough to eat.” But now, because I am telling you about that experience, I would use the past perfect. I will say, “I had had enough to eat.”

When I finally decided to move, I had had enough of my noisy neighbors, and expensive rent.

“I decided” is in the simple past, but before I made that decision, I had had the experience of noisy neighbors and expensive rent to pay.

Examples from Gabby’s Experience

Before I moved to Los Angeles, I’d had no idea how expensive it would be. Now that I’ve been here for a little while, I’ve had many experiences that show me how truly expensive it can be to live in a big city.

I used the past perfect “I’d had no idea how expensive it would be” because I’m talking about the past, before I moved to Los Angeles. In the second sentence, I am using the present perfect because even though it happened in the past, it is relevant to the present situation.

When I completed my master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, I’d had a really stressful a year, and I didn’t want to teach for a while. But since then, I’ve had many wonderful students that motivate me to keep teaching.

I talked about the year when I had had a stressful time, then I use the present perfect to say, “I’ve had many wonderful students,” because having wonderful students happened in the past and continues into the present.

Now It’s Time For a Quiz!

Are these correct?

  1. I has had a busy day.

No, it is incorrect. We need the helping verb have with the first person singular.

  1. You’ve had a busy day?

Yes, this is a correct. Remember, we can create a question by raising your voice at the end of a sentence.

  1. I had had a full plate of food so I can’t eat seconds, but thank you very much for offering..

No. I had had is not appropriate here because this is happening now. We’re having a conversation with someone who is offering you more food, and your eating was done in the past. We need to use the present perfect, I have had a full plate of food. (By the way, seconds means a second plate of food, or more food.)

  1. Before I visited New York City, I’ve had the impression that it was a very dangerous city.

This isn’t correct. “Before I visited New York City” is in the simple past. Before that, I thought it was a dangerous city. So we need to say, “I had had the impression…” This is something that happened in the past before something else that also happened in the past.

How Did You Do on the Quiz?

Let me know in the comments! If you’d like to learn more about the present perfect and past perfect tenses, check out this post. Be sure and watch this lesson on YouTube, along with lots of other new content! Have an amazing day and bye for now!

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