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My logical programmer brain made me write "had had made" in a sentence like

John talked about a spare key that he had had made and which turned out not to work when he actually needed it.

My language sense lodged a protest but could not pinpoint any actual fault, apart from suggesting the use of more human-digestible constructs like "a spare key that he had arranged to be made".

And so my logical programmer brain - which is hung up on precision and formal semantics by way of occupational hazard - still needs to know if the "had had made" construct is grammatically correct. Can you help?

Note: the crux is that "a spare key that he had made" (only one "had") would imply that John made the key himself, instead of having someone else make it.

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I think this is perfectly acceptable. It would be much less confusing when spoken, as you would naturally emphasise the second "had" (and maybe even shorten the "he had" to just "he'd"):

John talked about a spare key that he'd had made...

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  • Thanks for pointing out the contraction - this made me remember having read things like "she said that she'd had her hair done at so-and-so's" in more than one occasion. This is an indicator that the construct is acceptable even in print but nowadays that isn't really saying much, since the publishing industry seems to have abolished proof-reading at the turn of the century. What I find especially grating is things like "He was laying low." or the "The body was laying in a ditch." because they seem to occur more often than the correct constructs (at least in US print media and TV). – DarthGizka Nov 14 '19 at 10:34
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    This kind of confusing, but grammatically correct, sentence can be pushed to serious extremes, as in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Deolater Nov 14 '19 at 21:21

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