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I have this exercise.

Choose the correct form:

They had/They have had three children - I'm the youngest.

I chose

"They have had three children- I'm the youngest"

because I thought they still have children. But right answer was

They had

Why?

Full topic is:

My mum was born in Plymouth in 1948. When she left school, she started work in an office in Plymouth. Later, the company sent her to a different office in Bristol, where she met my dad. They fell in love, and they got married in 1970.6 They had / They've had three children - I'm the youngest. They moved / They've moved back to Plymouth again when my dad retired. They bought a very nice house and they lived / they've lived there for two years now. My dad just put / has just put a greenhouse in the garden for growing vegetables - he was / he's been a keen gardener all his life. My parents made / have made a lot of new friends and they're very happy in their new home.

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  • Without the surrounding context, assuming you are just talking about your parents in general, I would say "They have three children," or maybe "They have had three children" if you want to focus on the process of having (giving birth to) the children rather than the state of currently having (being parents to) three.

  • However, given that you're telling a story about your mother's life, the context is in the past when you get to talking about your parents giving birth. You're not saying "currently, they have had three"; you're saying "and then, after getting married, they had three children." So you're saying that they gave birth at that time (simple past), rather than that by now they've given birth to 3 children (present perfect).

    • By the way, if you were telling the story and wanted to mention something that happened before the point you were at in the story, you would use the past perfect. For example, you could say, "They had often dreamed of raising a family, so they had three children - I'm the youngest."
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If the parents are dead the past simple is used. I would use the present if the parents are living: "my parents have 3 children, I'm the youngest. The present perfect would be appropriate in a sentence like: "I have had three children, so my body has changed over time." have had = have given birth

  • To the person who downvoted my answer: could you explain the downvote, please? I like to learn from my mistakes. Downvoting without explanation is of no use, to me or anyone else. – anouk Jun 15 at 17:28
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    I'm not the one who downvoted, but the answer doesn't make sense with the given context. In this case, the "had" in "They had three children" refers to actually giving birth to the children in the past - not being parents to them before something happened, like the parents dying. – Ethan B. Jun 16 at 7:09

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