1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    When to include 'had'

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcusl, Oct 24, 2009.

    Consider this sentence:

    Tom returned to the town where he once lived.

    Should it instead be:

    Tom returned to the town where he had once lived.

    I always have trouble with this, because they both sound correct. What is the difference between the two? Thanks so much.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as infrequently as possible!

    in those examples, the first is ok, but in the second, 'had' is redundant, since 'once' means 'he had'... using 'had' properly, you could write:

    see the difference?
     
  3. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Yep, I see the difference. Thanks :).

    Indeed, it's nice to not use 'had' too often. Hm, how about:

    Ben remembered what his mother told him.

    Does it have to be:

    Ben remembered what his mother had told him.

    It sounds silly, but at the moment, I can't think of an example where "had" is compulsory?

    Thanks heaps.
     
  4. dgraham
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    dgraham Senior Member

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    You use "had + simple past" to generate the past perfect aspect, which means an action in the past that was completed before some other past action.

    1) John had walked home before sitting at his computer.

    Versus

    2) John walked home before sitting at his computer.

    Because we used the perfect aspect in the first example, we know that John sat at his computer in the past. However, in the 2nd example, we could just be telling a story, with all the actions happening currently.
     
  5. Mister Micawber
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    Mister Micawber Member

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    Additionally, keep in mind that the past perfect is only needed when the order of past events is otherwise ambiguous. If 'before' or other temporal words or phrases make clear this order, then past perfect is superfluous– as it is when common sense orders the events for us.

    The past perfect is called for (nay, compulsory) when the above do not obtain. Compare:

    He had finished breakfast when she arrived.
    He finished breakfast when she arrived.


    Past perfect has one other use: it is an emphasizer of the order of past events, and many of the instances of its use can referred to this effect.
     

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