What is the difference between "had had" and "had" in this context?

1 She woke up screaming because she had had a bad dream.

2 She woke up screaming because she had a bad dream.

If both are wrong, then what is the difference between 1 and 2?

  • 4
    If you replace the word had (the second had in the first sentence) with experienced, you will see that the first is PAST PERFECT and the second SIMPLE PAST Mar 22, 2020 at 15:20
  • 3
    With the different meanings of had, you can have lots of fun with this one, such as if you had had had replaced with had. :)
    – Lawrence
    Mar 22, 2020 at 15:43
  • 1
    This is one of those cases where logically, only Past Perfect (had had) is "correct" (because the experience of having a bad dream must have occurred earlier in time than the waking up and screaming). But native speakers often just use Simple Past in such contexts (because it's simpler). Mar 22, 2020 at 17:07
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica both past perfect and simple past are correct. simple past can be used almost anywhere past perfect is used, it just doesn't communicate as much inherent information. Actually, in this case the "because" explicitly orders the events anyway, so that information does not technically need to be communicated by a past perfect tense (it's redundant), so here simple past and past perfect are fully interchangeable.
    – Foogod
    Mar 24, 2020 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


The verb here is "to have". The simple past tense of "to have" is "had". The past perfect tense of "to have" is "had had". So one of these sentences is using the simple past tense and the other is using the past perfect tense.

The past perfect is generally used to indicate some past event happened before some other past event (so in this case, it indicates that having the bad dream happened before she woke up).

The simple past just says something happened in the past, but doesn't say anything about when it happened relative to other events. However, in this case, the use of "because" already explicitly says that one was the cause of the other, and therefore the bad dream must have happened first, so in this case using simple past has basically the same meaning as using the past perfect.

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