What is the difference between the following?

How had he lost weight?


How did he lose weight?

In what situations, both has to be used?

  • 1
    did he lose not "did he lost".
    – TimR
    May 21, 2017 at 14:48

2 Answers 2


How had he lost weight: this is the past perfect tense. How did he lose weight: this is the simple past.

Explaining random examples without context require us to first look at the grammar rule in detail:

  • one of the uses of past perfect is to show sequence of past activities, e.g., he watched the film with his friend yesterday even though he had already seen it the previous month (2 past actions, yesterday and a month ago): our question here could be: when had he seen the film for the first time?

  • the simple past is used for an activity which has finished in the past and where the time has also finished, e.g., he drove to Berlin last week: our question here could be: when did he drive to Berlin?

So, coming back to the specific examples, the past perfect question needs to be used together with another past action,

e.g., he wrote a diary of how had he lost weight: question: how had he lost weight? (referring to the time before he wrote the book). It is not wrong to also ask here, how did he lose weight?

e.g., he lost 10 kilos and felt much happier: question: how did he lose weight?

  • The past perfect needs to imply there was another action in the simple past, it does not need to actually state it. By that time, I had gone. See? No other past action. Only an implied past action. So, it's tricky.
    – Lambie
    May 22, 2017 at 15:21

How did he lose weight? [last year, last month, a few years ago, in short, at a time in the past that is not the now] Time of this utterance: The Present. Tense of utterance: Simple Past


How had he lost weight? [before some date in the past, before some moment in the past, before some occurrence in the past.] Time of utterance: The Present Tense of utterance: Past Perfect

Sentence ONE is like this: (the PAST)_______________X (present] ___________________________


Sentence TWO is like this: (the PAST)____/(some moment or date)_______X(present) ________

The past perfect takes places at or before the /.

Example: How had he lost weight? [/=when he dieted in the summer]

  • But "when he dieted in the summer" is concurrent and not subsequent to his losing weight, isn't it? I'm confused. May 21, 2017 at 16:23
  • I had gone when they arrived. He had lost weight when he dieted in the summer. The past perfect action precedes the simple past action.
    – Lambie
    May 21, 2017 at 17:16
  • So he lost weight and only afterwards started dieting? Odd. May 21, 2017 at 17:20
  • No, the action of the simple past (he dieted) is preceded by the action of losing weight. I had explained the question after it was asked. My explaining the question is preceded by it being asked. :) Best I can do.
    – Lambie
    May 21, 2017 at 17:24

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