11

Since we had postponed my dog's burial, Mom had (had) to find a way to preserve him.

This sentence is in the past tense and the narrator is talking about what happened days ago. Since it's in the past tense, do I need an extra "had"? Why or why not? (By the way, do I need the first "had"?)

EDIT:

Some context: the narrator (who's telling the story in past tense) and the mother agreed to postpone the dog's burial on June 19. And at the time the narrator is saying the sentence it is June 21 (still in the past).

5

There are two actions in the past. The postponement of the dog's burial is earlier than the other action in the past. We don't use an extra had; you will simply use "had to" to make the sentence in the past simple. So the correct sentence is:

Since we had postponed my dog's burial, Mom had to find a way to preserve it.

| improve this answer | |
2

No, you don't need to use an extra had there as the postponing occurs before the preservation. So the simple past will go just fine in your second sentence, that is you need the first had.

| improve this answer | |
  • Your terminology is a bit wrong here. The simple past would be Since we postponed.... With "had": Since we had postponed..., the tense is "past perfect" – James Webster Jul 23 '15 at 15:58
  • @JamesWebster, I meant in the second sentence as per OP's question. But I'll edit to make it less ambiguous. – Lucian Sava Jul 23 '15 at 16:12
  • I knew what you meant (and was upvoting at the same time as you were making the edit! :) I particularly like that you chose to say you don't need to use past perfect, which merely implies the rock-solid advice that if you don't need to use it, don't use it. But suppose the sentence had continued with , which meant our margaritas were served without ice. I think in that context it would be best to include the extra had. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '15 at 16:27
  • Ah, then sorry Lucien. Ignore me! – James Webster Jul 23 '15 at 16:35
2

You can use it, but in both spoken and particularly in written English, it would usually be avoided.

The reason it is grammatically and semantically correct is that "had" is being used with two different definitions here, and the first "had" is simply helping to conjugate the second "had".

The reason it would usually be avoided, especially in written English, is that everybody knows this looks strange, and it can often be misunderstood as a typo. In addition, just like what the other couple of people have said, anybody reading the sentence can tell what you mean just fine by looking at the first part of that sentence (this being grammatically correct as well). And yes, you do need the first "had" in the sentence if you want to have precisely the same tense, though it won't really affect the general idea of this particular sentence.

| improve this answer | |
  • Good answer, except I don't think the first "had" is necessary. Correct, certainly, but not necessary. – default.kramer Jul 23 '15 at 15:00
  • 1
    I don't think this is a good answer. Firstly, I don't believe articulate native speakers would consider the had had repetition in the least bit "strange" (it's a natural implication of how the tense works). More importantly, any opinion as to whether the second clause could or should also use use past perfect depends entirely on the "narrative time" (of whatever follows). We thus don't really have enough context to rule on that point. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '15 at 16:50
1

There are valid uses for all of the following:

Since we postponed my dog's burial, Mom had to find a way to preserve him.
Since we postponed my dog's burial, Mom had had to find a way to preserve him.
Since we had postponed my dog's burial, Mom had to find a way to preserve him.
Since we had postponed my dog's burial, Mom had had to find a way to preserve him.

It's a matter of what else is going on in the context. The way I think about this construction is that "had had to" is in the past's past. If you're telling a story about last week, and it's relevant to the story that Mom had already found a way to preserve the dog, then I'd use "had had to", e.g.:

My Grandfather came over last week, intending to surprise my little sister with an ice-cream birthday cake. It didn't go well. My dog had died the night before, but Dad was at work late. Since we had postponed my dog's burial, Mom had had to find a way to preserve him. She had chosen the deep freezer in the garage. When Grandpa snuck into the garage and opened it to hide the dessert, he screamed, dropped the cake, and brought us all running to see who was breaking into the house.

Since the story takes place last week, and the preservation was before that, the simple past tense would seem insufficient.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.