What is the difference between "had had to" and "have had to"? Please provide examples and elaborate explanations. What do each mean in the sentence?

  • 1
    Do you have a sample sentence in mind? The basic difference is in the temporal reference frame, but that might be easier to explain if you have an example that makes sense to you.
    – Adam
    Nov 3, 2015 at 21:56

2 Answers 2

  • have had to
  • had had to

These are both perfect constructions, which you may read about in stupefying (yet inadequate) detail here.

The perfect is constructed with a form of HAVE as an auxiliary verb followed by the past participle of the lexical verb. In these cases, the lexical verb is also HAVE, employed in the construction HAVE tomust. The past participle of HAVE is had, so these constructions end with had to. In have had to ... the auxiliary is cast in the present-tense form, which is have with a first-person subject, so this is a present perfect. In had had to ... the auxiliary is cast in the past-tense form, which is always had, so this is a past perfect.

Examples of the use of these constructions:

  • I have had to explain the perfect construction many times.

    When I say or write that sentence I mean that explaining the perfect construction many times is a component of my present history and experience.

  • Two minutes ago I wrote that I had had to explain the construction many times.

    That sentence means that explaining the perfect construction many times was a component of my history and experience at that time in the past.

  • 1
    Undoubtedly clear and perfect. But just a little suggestion, for many non-natives (including me when I joined this!), what is auxiliary, lexical are questions in themselves!
    – Maulik V
    Nov 4, 2015 at 5:11

While StoneyB's expertise in answering such questions may sound too technical for a learner (especially a non-native), here I'd try to explain it at least in a simpler way, if not better!

Yes, it is difficult for non-native speakers to understand double verbs that too when they are sitting with each other!

Let's start with something very common what you and I fully understand. If I give you a chocolate to eat, you may say -

I eat a chocolate

But then, in good English we practice

I have a chocolate/breakfast etc.

This means those all items you eat.

So, be clear, we'll not use 'eat'. Instead, we'll use 'have': I eat breakfast = I have breakfast

Writing that again:

I have breakfast

Here, 'have' is used as a main verb. And, we are talking about the present situation i.e. present tense.

NOW, what if this present tense gets a little old matter? In other words, little time has passed and you want to tell that same sentence.

You know that it is called as 'present perfect' because here we connect the present thing with the recent past.

So, if you have breakfast at say - 8 am, and if you reveal it at 10 am or so, what do you say with our old tradiitional writing?

I have eaten breakfast

The entire sentence is now present perfect. You see that 'eat' here became 'eaten' because it's past (participle).

But as we discussed, we don't use 'eat'. Instead, our original word was 'have'. So, replace 'eaten' with the past participle of 'have' which in this case is 'had'

Tell me, what do we write now?

I have had breakfast.

Note that in this example, the main verb is again 'have' and not 'had' because 'had' is actually 'eaten' if you remember!

I think it'd be now easy for you to understand 'had had'.

I had eaten had breakfast

The example is in past perfect.

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