I'm a little confused about the use of did and had in past tense -- recent past and distant past.

For example, If I want to ask a friend whether he applied for a job (today), I would simply ask "Did you apply for the job?"

Similarly, if I want to ask him whether he had applied for the job that day (a day in the past) -- without having to mention that day -- I'd probably say "Had you applied for the job [that day]?"

Is this second sentence correct? If not, please help with the sentence construction in this context.

  • did in both cases. Both are simple past. had is when another thing has happened: Had you applied for the job when your brother became ill?
    – Lambie
    Nov 25, 2019 at 17:28

2 Answers 2


Has is not quite "recent" and "distant". That is a simplification.

The past perfect ("Had you applied") indicates that the verb or action was totally completed at some point in time. This can be either stated in the sentence "that day", or inferred from context.

If you asked the second sentence to an English speaker just to figure out if he applied for the job or not on a given day in the past, he might say "Had I applied by when?" - understanding that you are asking about "that day" but not knowing what the the "when" is.

In general past perfect wants to mean something like "HAD you applied... WHEN [event or single point in time]", if that makes sense! You can certainly leave of the event if it's implied by context, that's not wrong.


There are several possible ways of asking your friend the question, depending on the context.

The first construction applies regardless of when he (might have) applied for the job and when you are asking:

Did you apply for the job (this week, last year, after completing your studies)?

It's wrong to ask just: Had you applied for the job.... unless you want to pose a hypothetical situation.

Had you applied for the job, you might well be a millionaire now.

It's another way of saying: If you had applied for the job, you might well be a millionaire now.

Alternatively, you could introduce the had question or conclude it with another (past tense) clause that makes the time frame clear:

Had you applied for the job before the term ended?
Before the applications closed, had you applied for the job.

If the job has been recently advertised, you can also ask:

Have you applied for the job?

There is no difference in meaning in this context between Did you... and have you.

  • That's a totally different meaning of "had" than Zaeem asked about; this answer is almost certainly confusing! The question was about past perfect tense ("distant past" vs. "past"). "Had" can also introduce a conditional clause, but that's /completely different use/ ("Had" in the original is a "helper verb", but not so in "Had you...")! And you can certainly say "Had you applied for the job?" by itself and not mean the conditional "had".
    – BadZen
    Nov 25, 2019 at 17:09
  • 1
    You might also use 'had' when relating the job application to another past event. "You moved to London in June. Had you [already] applied for the job then?" Nov 25, 2019 at 17:10
  • Kate - exactly. Let's add that the "second" past event or time must be discrete; a point in time and not ongoing. 'Had you... [when <event>]" or 'Had you... [by <time>]" even if those bwords in [] are implied.
    – BadZen
    Nov 25, 2019 at 17:13
  • Lastly, "Did you..." and "Have you..." are /not the same in meaning/. They are completely different tenses.
    – BadZen
    Nov 25, 2019 at 17:14
  • @BadZen Unless you are introducing the Had question with another time frame (as Kate Bunting has done) or concluding it in similar manner Had you applied for a job before you left university? it is simply wrong to ask just Had you applied for a job. Nov 25, 2019 at 17:16

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