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Is saying, "what had happen was..."

grammatically correct?

Or, should I stick with, "what happened was..." ?

The first one is sometimes used jokingly but other times seriously.

So I just want to be sure.

Thanks,

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    had happen will never be correct: the perfect is formed with HAVE + a past participle, had happened. Mar 29, 2016 at 11:16
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    You do hear "what had happen was..." sometimes in informal speech of the Southern US, I believe. My wife is from Louisiana, and occasionally says it, although very self-conciously. It isn't "correct", but it does occur in people's speech.
    – stangdon
    Mar 29, 2016 at 17:42

2 Answers 2

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what happened was...

This is past simple: you are describing something that happened before now.

what had happened was...

This is past perfect simple: you are describing something that happened before some event in the past. For example,

Joe missed the flight: I wondered what had happened to him.

The departure of the flight is an event in the past: something must have happened to Joe before the departure in order to prevent him from catching the flight.

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what had happen was...

If a second verb follows had, with nothing in between, or only adverbs, then that second verb must be the past participle form of the verb because you are using past perfect.

So it needs to be:

what had happened was ...

As far as the difference between what happened and what had happened - it's complicated, but essentially what had happened was X relates X to something else, either something else in conversation or something else the listener should know about.

What had happened was the dog bit me, and then I ran away.

A: What's wrong, why are you bleeding? What's going on? B: Well, what had happened was the dog bit me (relates to A's initial question)

If there is no "something else" then what happened was X will probably be clearer.


The first one is sometimes used jokingly but other times seriously.

In speech, when saying happened there can be a tendency to not sound the ed, especially in quick speech. Written out that way it's wrong and looks weird, though.

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