I've been breaking my head for a long time now on whether to use "have" or "had" in certain cases.

For example:

"I have ordered three books. Yet, only two of those had arrived."

The thing is, in the first sentence, it is stated that I ordered the three books in the past, so by that logic it would be fitting to use "had". But on the other hand, it is relevant to this current statement, so "have" seems like another good option.

In the second sentence, the two books arrived in the past, so "had" is what I chose to use. But it seems like "have" would have been another good fit, since it implies that the books are currently in my possession.

So the question is: are these two words correctly placed and used in the example? And may I hear a more elaborate explanation about their correct usage?

  • Use the past perfect to place an action before another time in the past. There are two times in the past in your sentence, when you ordered them and when they arrived. So using had arrived doesn't work, because they arrived after you ordered them. Jun 27, 2017 at 11:47
  • So, what if I used them like this? "I had ordered three books, yet, only two of those have arrived". Would that be correct to say? And in your answer, did you mean to say that I should have used "have" in both cases?
    – He7Man7
    Jun 27, 2017 at 11:59
  • 1
    Could you simplify to "Although I ordered three books, only two arrived"? Jun 27, 2017 at 12:01
  • 1
    Using had ordered doesn't sound wrong the way had arrived does. It's unnecessary, because the order of events is perfectly clear without using the past perfect. And we usually don't use past perfect when it's unnecessary. If the order the events are presented in doesn't match the order they happened, we're much more likely to use past perfect. Jun 27, 2017 at 12:18
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    "I was worried last week because I had ordered three books but only two had arrived. This week the third book has arrived so I am happy."
    – Kate Bunting
    Jun 27, 2017 at 14:51

3 Answers 3


Just for clarity's sake:

"I have ordered three books. Yet, only two of those have arrived." [past but we don't know when, and the statement is true at the time of speaking in the present]

"I ordered three books. Yet, only two of those arrived." [implied: at some defined point in the past: last week, three days ago, last year, etc. etc. etc. Both things are over and done with.]

"I ordered three books [last week]. Yet, only two of those have arrived." [action in the past with another that continues to be true at the time of speaking in the present]

"I ordered three books. Yet, only two of those had arrived in time for your birthday." [past with a specific moment implied preceded by another moment in time]

Summary: the past perfect is used to signal a moment in the past that precedes another past moment where other verb is usually in the simple past.

I arrived late after the other guests had left. [a simple example]

My arrival was preceded by the other guests leaving.


"Have ordered" indicates that in the present, you have the attribute of "has ordered" (present perfect). "Had arrived" indicates that in the past, your books had the attribute of "has arrived" (past perfect).

You should use have/have or had/had (as opposed to have/had), depending on the tense of your context.

  • 1
    The most idiomatic way to state this is to use simple past, present perfect. "I ordered three books, yet only two of them have arrived." Dec 9, 2018 at 17:49

Now: I have ordered three books but as yet only two of them have arrived.

In the past: I had ordered three books but by then only two of them arrived.

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