All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life.

Well, talk about lexical ambiguity. But as strange as this sentence might sound, it is actually grammatically correct. The sentence relies on a double use of the past perfect. The two instances of “had had” play different grammatical roles in the sentences—the first is a modifier while the second is the main verb of the sentence.

I don't understand the grammatical explanation given for this sentence. How does had had had had make sense and is grammatical? I understand that had had is correct, but not had had had had.

2 Answers 2


As the explanation states, this isn't four "had"s, it's two "had had"s. Parse it as:

(All the faith he had had) had had no effect...


He had had some faith. This is the past perfect tense.

All (that faith) had had no effect. This is also the past perfect tense.

When you insert the first sentence as a relative clause in the second sentence, you get the result:

All the faith he had had had had no effect ...

Although it is indeed grammatical, it's so pathological that no one would say or write this outside of an academic exercise.

If you like this sort of thing, there are even more pathological (one might even say diabolical) sentences that are possible in English, like:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

  • Sticking with "had" though there's "Jones where Smith had had had had had had had; had had had had the teacher's approval?" Commented May 24, 2021 at 20:25
  • I like "Pink pink pink pink pink pink pink pink." (The pale red coloured flowers that get cut a perforated edge around by pale red flowers cut a perforated edge around pale red flowers.) You can do pretty much the same thing whenever a word is simultaneously a noun, verb and adjective, I guess...
    – Showsni
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 0:37

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