1. Addicted2aa
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    Addicted2aa Senior Member

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    Using had

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Addicted2aa, Apr 3, 2009.

    I've been noticing that when writing about things that happened in the past some people will say something like.
    "John had graduated from college." or "His wife had left him a month ago."
    Other times people will write.
    "John graduated from college." or "His wife left him a month ago."

    To me the second sentence seems OK without the had because it mentions when it happened. I feel like without the had in the first sentence, if a person was writing in the past tense to start with, the meaning is that at the time the story is taking place John performed the action of graduating when the meaning is supposed to be that John, at some point in time, graduated. Also that last sentence was really long.:rolleyes:
    So anyway any thoughts on how it's supposed to be used?
     
  2. StrixVaria
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    StrixVaria New Member

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    You use had when you're talking about something that came before something else in the past.

    For example: "I wanted to go to the bar, but I had not eaten yet."

    That is the main purpose of this tense, so it should be avoided otherwise.
     
  3. Castlesofsand
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    Castlesofsand Banned

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    excellent example of the use of 'had', StrixVaria.

    i agree it should be avoided if possible but can be used sparingly
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The above use is flat out incorrect. It is not just a matter of style. The use of the auxiliary verb in this fashion denotes repetition of action or an incomplete action. It is not just there to denote past tense. The problem is that complex tenses (especially in the U.S.) are being butchered in everyday use; hence, perfective and imperfective aspects in verb use are terms most people are unaware of. These sentences would be correct if there were a followup in the syntax of the writing like:

    John had graduated from college, but found out later that the university was unaccredited.

    His wife had left him a month ago, but then she had a change of heart and returned.


    In both examples there is the sense of incompleteness of action.

    These examples are not just stylistically correct, they are grammatically correct.
     
  5. chandler245
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    chandler245 Banned

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    [QUOTE:Wreybies;]The above use is flat out incorrect. It is not just a matter of style. The use of the auxiliary verb in this fashion denotes repetition of action or an incomplete action. It is not just there to denote past tense. The problem is that complex tenses (especially in the U.S.) are being butchered in everyday use; hence, perfective and imperfective aspects in verb use are terms most people are unaware of.

    I think the question is how do you not use the word had when explaining things that has happened? Thanks for the mention of the U.S use of our grammer, if you have anyother pointers that would be great. I am writing a book and after reading this I am afraid of using the word had in any of my writing so please tell me what other word I can use to explain something?:mad: How frustrating
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Use of the Auxiliary Verb
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have to disagree with your blanket condemnation of those two samples, wrey...

    they certainly can be used as is, without any additions to the sentence... such as:

     
  8. Castlesofsand
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    Castlesofsand Banned

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    the reason they can be used or rather are used in the example you quoted is because people get too used to falling back on that word.

    what does it add to the content of the sentence? not a darn thing.

    i suppose it's just a matter or preference.
     
  9. chandler245
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    chandler245 Banned

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    But couldn't it say "John graduated from college, but found out later that the university was unaccredited" or "His wife left him a month age, But then she had a change of heart and returned." And stll get the same point accross without having to use the word had?
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes,of course, especially in today's diction.

    Not to be trite, but I don't get this anti-had/have/has thing. :confused:
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    But you have added to the logical syntax, simply as a new sentence. In both cases you have provided, you have made use of the idea of impermanence.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Wreybies, but what if like the OP said these sentences follow the past tense and are a retelling?

    I walked to the store and thought back four years. John had graduated college.
    I think this is what the OP was referring to. If so, I would drop the past perfect as you continue. Janet Burroway said something like, "Set up that it is a telling of a prior event and then drop the past perfect and your readers will stay with you."
    I walked to the store and thought back four years. John had graduated college. I was working at Subway. One day he stopped by to get a sandwich. When our eyes met, we stared for a long, awkward moment. That was the first day I had met John.

    Drifting out of my memory, I entered the store. The little bells on the door chimed.
     
  13. Castlesofsand
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    Castlesofsand Banned

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    the fact still remains, that 'had' is overused and rarely used correctly
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    When you say "had" is overused and incorrectly used, do you mean in novels, or here on this site?
     
  15. Castlesofsand
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    Castlesofsand Banned

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    well novels are written by authors, where on writing forums(and not just this forum, i've been on a few) 'had' is used too often, sort of slapped in to paste a past already told. I'm not saying it is always used that way, but I am saying it's overused.

    But then, we are writers, if we were authors, we'd not be wasting time here. That's why we're here, so we can learn.
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Okay, I was just wondering.

    So, are you saying it is incorrect to use the past perfect to show a prior event if you are writing in the simple past?

    Is the following example the incorrect use of the past perfect? It is from Fledgling by Octavia Butler.
    I wandered from site to site, picking up more bits of interesting, but useless, information. Finally, I switched to hunting through information about recent fires. I found a couple of articles that probably referred to what I was coming to think of as “my fire.”


    They said the houses had been abandoned. The fire had happened three weeks ago and had definitely been arson. Gasoline had been splashed about liberally, then set alight. Fortunately, the fire had not spread to the surrounding forest—as it probably would have if the houses had truly been abandoned. There would have been plenty of bushes, vines, grasses, and young trees to carry the fire straight into the woods.
     
  17. Castlesofsand
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    Castlesofsand Banned

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    what i am saying is this

    many writers on forums such as this, use 'had' incorrectly or too often.

    Quoting from an author's published piece, has nothing to do with my statement.

    are we clear on this?
     
  18. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I'm just trying to figure out if her use of had there is used incorrectly. I'm not trying to challange you or make you upset.
     
  19. Castlesofsand
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    Castlesofsand Banned

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    lol Architectus, i am not upset, i just didn't want you thinking that I don't make these same mistakes, and also to make sure you understood that i'm talking about writers still learning.

    so i don't and didn't mind this banter between us. I've read many books as i'm sure you have where the text catches our eyes because grammatically it is incorrect, and yet there it is. Sometimes its just accepted. My point is that many use it too often, that 'had' word. I am guilty of it myself though am trying to change.

    so no worries :) all is fine
     
  20. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    :):cool:
     
  21. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Had is one of those words that is overused and a lot of editors/publishers dislike the use of it, just like they dislike the use of the words was/were. I know a couple editors who will stop reading after they find that a writer has put about 33 was' on one page.

    I think that 'had' is something that is not always a necessity in writing. Sometimes the sentence calls for it, but a lot of the times simply rewording the sentence will allow for the removal of it.

    Also, in the published piece you posted, you'll see that in the first paragraph, the author never uses had--he only uses had when referring to something that occurred prior in the past (because the book itself is written in past tense) and thus is required to use past perfect to stay grammatically correct.
     

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