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This is a sentence I found that made me puzzled

someone who had not yet read the book she had had ghostwritten

I understand the concept of had had with the second had being used instead of a verb, but how is the above sentence correct?

2 Answers 2

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The first have is the perfect auxiliary in its past form had. It's the same had you can see in the main clause (had read).

The second have is causative have in its past participle form had. This is sense 14 in Macmillan Dictionary:

[transitive] [never passive] to arrange for something to be done or for someone to do something

have something done:

The place is looking much better since they had it redecorated.

She wanted to have her portrait painted by a famous artist.

have someone do something:

I’ll have someone bring your luggage up right away.

She paid someone else to ghostwrite her book, or at least gave that impression.

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The book she had ghostwritten.

This phrase is actually ambiguous.

It could be taken to mean that she had somebody else write it on her behalf. But it could also be taken to mean that she was the one who did the ghostwriting for somebody else.

Now consider what happens if the object of the sentence is put after the verb:

She had ghostwritten the book.

Strictly speaking, it's still possible this could be interpreted to mean that she had somebody else do it—but that would be awkward phrasing, and a more common interpretation is that she was the actual writer.

However, if you really want to make the meaning completely clear, leaving no doubt that she was the writer, you could phrase it this way:

She was the ghostwriter of the book.


Now consider the construction you have an issue with

The book that she had had ghostwritten.

This explicitly means that she had someone else write the book on her behalf.

She had had it done for her rather than doing it herself.

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  • Thanks very much, both answers were great. I can only give one 'tick' so I gave it to the first answer. Thanks for simple answer.
    – hks
    Jul 8, 2018 at 14:20

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