'The painting which I had had painted was a portrait of Buddha.'

If the use of double had in the sentence means that it is not I, but someone else, who painted this picture, can you please explain the grammar rules?

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    Where did this sentence come from? Did you write it? It's a little hard to understand; at first I thought you were trying to say something like this: The painting that I had had a picture of Buddha. – J.R. Jun 27 '17 at 14:56
  • No, I did not write it on my own. I quoted it. Mistakenly, I had asked a similar question in the usage and grammar section of this site and was requested to ask the question on this section. I wrote: The picture which I have made painted was very big.An expert replied me that the sentence was wrong. It should be 'the picture that I had had painted was very big.' The double had means it was painted by someone else. – Arkaprava Bose Jun 27 '17 at 15:23
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    This is one way to use the double "had" (at least as correctly quoted by J.R.) with two "to have" verbs next to each other, but with different subjects. The other is the past perfect of "to have", e.g. "I had had a portrait of Buddha, but I don't have it anymore." This is not common. – Andrew Jun 27 '17 at 15:37
  • @Fumble - I initially misread/misinterpreted/misparsed the OP's sentence. [Comment revised - thanks.] – J.R. Jun 27 '17 at 16:19
  • @ArkapravaBose - Generally speaking, you should add details like that to your question. This meta question will give you some details about why such details are important. – J.R. Jun 27 '17 at 16:21

"Had had" is not common in English, but it can occur in a number of different contexts:

I had a painting of Buddha (possessive)

I had him paint a portrait of Buddha for me (causative).

Both of these can be made past perfect:

When I was a kid, I had had a dog before we moved to the city

I had had him paint a portrait of Buddha for me, but I soon lost it.

Usually when the double-"had" is spoken, one of the hads is emphasized to distinguish whether the possessive/causative is important, or the time frame is important. This can vary with context:

Before I left the country, I had had him paint the picture.

I had had a cat -- or rather I should say she had me.

In general, "had had" sounds awkward and should be avoided. Most of the time you can condense this to a single "had" without changing the intended meaning:

Before I left the country, I had him paint a portrait of Buddha.

I had my phone before I left the house.

Or you can just use a different word:

Before I left the country, I had commissioned him to paint a portrait of Buddha.

Before I left the house, I had put my phone in my pocket.

In addition, "had had" can appear when there are two, separate uses of "to have" with different subjects and objects. As before, it's recommended that you avoid using "had had" -- but if you must, use a comma (or, in conversation, a significant pause)

The painting that I had, had a picture of Buddha

  • I started my sentence with "the painting" and not with "pronoun I". I did not know the agent of the painting. If double had is uncommon, what is the alternative to the sentence " The painting which I had had/got painted was one of Buddha. Please help. – Arkaprava Bose Jun 28 '17 at 18:24
  • You are correct and that it looks like the past perfect, but a native speaker might pick up on the causative meaning, given context. Also you rarely need to use the past perfect. Something like, "This is a portrait of Buddha that I had painted when I was in Tibet," would be fine, or, "I really like this portrait of Buddha -- I had it painted while I was visiting Tibet." As a grammatical exercise it's all fun and games, but in conversation it's most important to be clearly understood, and "had had" is usually confusing. – Andrew Jun 28 '17 at 18:33
  • Also, it doesn't make sense that you had it painted but you don't know the painter. "Had" as a causative implies some degree of superiority, like you ordered someone to do it. Mostly it's fine, for example as a hotel guest you can have the staff do various things because that's what you're paying for, but with an artist you might use less supercilious language like "I commissioned this painting" or "An artist did this painting for me". Of course, this depends on your personality. – Andrew Jun 28 '17 at 18:36
  • Let me create a full context in which I try to understand the causative sentence. – Arkaprava Bose Jun 29 '17 at 4:29
  • Mr Biswas was associated with the festival since its inception. He was a mentor of Mr Roy, the organiser of the festival. Mr Roy with his head full of new ideas often visited him, seeking his advice on how to realise them in an effective way. One day, Mr Roy had planned to decorate the festival with traditional craftworks, but Mr Biswas told him that it would be better if he could show a good oil painting instead of the familiar objects of traditional art. – Arkaprava Bose Jun 29 '17 at 4:29

Let's go tense by tense:

I have Joe paint this portrait.

This is the boring present tense. It means I get Joe to do this on a regular basis.

I have had Joe paint this portrait.

Joe did this for me in the very recent past.

I had Joe paint this portrait.

Joe did this at some unspecified time in the past.

I had had Joe paint this portrait.

Joe did this at some point in the past, before another point in the past. Typically, you would use this construction when you have a point of reference in time. For example, better uses would be as follows:

In 1980, I hung this portrait on my wall. I had had Joe paint this portrait.

Use of an 'already' may further clarify this.

I had no need for a second portrait in 1990. I had already had Joe paint this portrait back in 1980.

Hope this helps!

  • I don't think your first example works very well, because painting a particular portrait is more of a one-time thing, not an ongoing thing. You could say, "I have Joe clean this portrait," which would imply it gets cleaned regularly, or, "I have Joe paint this deck," which would imply it gets painted, say, every summer. – J.R. Jun 27 '17 at 15:00
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    I agree that the sentence is not very meaningful, but I was merely trying to illustrate with the OP's example sentence. One can, however, construe hypothetical situations. Perhaps, Joe is an art student and I, as his teacher, get him to paint the same portrait over and over again, as both an exercise in art and in self-restraint from killing one's teacher. – urnonav Jun 27 '17 at 15:06
  • I understand. I have Joe paint this picture. But if I want to write the same sentence starting with not I but with the object, painting. The painting which I had Joe paint was a portrait of Buddha. Does it make sense? – Arkaprava Bose Jun 27 '17 at 15:29
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    @ArkapravaBose: yes, your passive version works. [Side note about varieties of English: for me as a BrE speaker, "have a picture painted" is idiomatic, but "have somebody paint a picture" is not - it sounds American to me. The form I would use is "get somebody to paint a picture".] – Colin Fine Jun 27 '17 at 15:52
  • @Colin Fine: Then, the picture that I had got Joe to paint was a portrait of Buddha. And If I don't know who painted it is it correct to write: The picture that I had got painted was a portrait of Buddha? – Arkaprava Bose Jun 27 '17 at 16:00

Had + {past-participle} is the past perfect form of a verb.

I had walked to the park last week.

The verb have can itself be expressed in past perfect form (not very common though) and it follows the same rules if you want to express it in past perfect form.

I had had an adventure I will never forget.

This is the only valid reason why you will hear/see had had.

Keep in mind that have is like most English verbs in that the past-tense and past-participle forms are the same.

Another example with a verb that has a distinct irregular past-participle form.

I had driven him out of my house.

So this pattern here is wrong:

had had + {past-participle}

It must always be:

had + {past-participle}

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