Have you ever encountered the words “had had” in a sentence and thought you were seeing double? Well, rest assured that your eyesight is all right and what you were seeing was a perfectly correct grammatical construction called the past perfect tense.
The Double Had Had in a Sentence
Perfect verb tense is used to show an action that is complete and finished, or perfected. This tense is expressed by adding one of the auxiliary verbs — have, has, or had — to the past participle form of the main verb.
Have + eaten
Has + finished
Had + loved
So what’s going on with the had had construction?
To understand the double had you have to remember that The past perfect is formed by using the past tense of have, which is HAD, and a past participle of the main verb, HAVE, which is also HAD. When we use “have” as a main verb we are using to mean possess, own, hold for use, or contain.
So to be clear, have can be used as an auxiliary verb and as a main verb. Let’s think of this when forming the past perfect tense, when you want to indicate that you possessed, owned an action sometime in the past, but it is completed or perfected now.
You would use the past form of the auxiliary verb have which is HAD. And you would use the past participle of the main verb HAVE which is HAD.
- Before the parent-teacher meeting, my teacher had (already) had many conferences with me due to my poor grades. (interrupted by an adverb).
- I had had many opportunities to complete extra credit assignments before my final grade was posted. ( for emphasis) certainly
- We had not had enough sleep the night before; therefore, we were very tired the morning of the test. (negative adverb not–show it also in the contracted form)
To conclude, please know that the use of ‘Had Had” is becoming less common and that although technically there is a difference between the past perfect tense and the simple past, semantically speaking, there is often little difference as long as the context is understood.