I read these sentences recently in a book. What is the difference between these two sentences?

I had my car cleaned.


I had cleaned my car.

The book gave two different meanings.

How would you describe the difference between these two sentences?

3 Answers 3


The first sentence, "had my car cleaned," implies that someone else did it. "I had my car cleaned [by someone]." Disregarding tenses, you could say "my car was cleaned." The "had [something done]" setup typically implies that you instructed someone to do it.

The second sentence means that you cleaned it. Disregarding tenses again, you could say "I cleaned my car."


In "I had my car cleaned" the main verb is "had"; the perfect tense of the verb "to have". In this case it's "to have" in the sense of "to arrange for".

In "I had cleaned my car" the main verb is "had cleaned"; the pluperfect tense of the verb "to clean".

  • Agree: "have" has meaning and is the subject of the first sentence, but in the second, it's just a thing that changes the tense slightly. English uses word order to identify the subject and object of sentences. People will generally understand if you get word order wrong, particularly once they get an "ear" for your way of speaking: Star Wars' Yoda is a good example. But word order can really matter in English. "I have to eat food" vs "I have food to eat". "Do you need food?" vs "You do need food". Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 18:50

The first sentence means "I arranged for somebody to clean my car". It is in the past but the word "had" in this construction indicates the arrangement.

The second sentence means that at the point in the past of which I am speaking my car had already been cleaned (by me).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .