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  1. Jeff Countryman

    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    Is 'had had' acceptable these days?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Jeff Countryman, Dec 4, 2015.

    He had had two drinks already and was heading for the bar to get another.

    I think it reads okay and it doesn't trip me up when I read it in other's writing but some people/businesses find it unacceptable. The hospital I work for won't allow it in medical reports as they are legal documents, so was curious what others thought.
     
  2. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's perfectly acceptable, especially in fiction. I didn't realize some places don't allow it.
     
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would probably edit it to

    He'd had two drinks already and was heading for the bar to get another.

     
  4. edamame

    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never questioned if "had had" was acceptable and thought it was, but in medical reports maybe they want to stop any chance at ambiguity.
     
  5. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Would the hospital prefer something like, "He had consumed two drinks already, and . . . "? In other words, is the problem with the imprecise meaning of the second had?
     
  6. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with @ChickenFreak about how I'd use it in fiction. Or, maybe, "He had already had two drinks...". Although that's not because it's wrong, just uncomfortable.

    As far as the medical report, presumably it's something along the lines of "He had had received 20 grammes of phenobarbitone in the ambulance" whereas if you're keeping the actual notes of treatment on the ward it would go "I have given him/he has had..."
     
    Catrin Lewis likes this.
  7. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that was my thought, but as usual @ChickenFreak got there first!
     
  8. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd go with @ChickenFreak's suggestion. Or He'd already had two drinks...

    And now I'm curious why legal documents won't allow it. Could it really be so ambiguous?
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's all that ambiguous, but it's awkward as hell. I use the work-around ChickenFreak suggested to avoid it.
     
  10. LemonadeLover

    LemonadeLover Member

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    I'm from the UK and using had had is pretty common and definitely acceptable (at least where I'm from).
     
  11. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Looks like it's less popular than it used to be, and the contraction workaround is growing in popularity...

    https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=he+had+had,+he'd+had&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=16&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4;,he had had;,c0;,s0;;he had had;,c0;;He had had;,c0;.t4;,he 'd had;,c0;,s0;;he 'd had;,c0;;He 'd had;,c0

    ETA: For some reason I can't get the link to work properly, but if you hit that link and then the "Search Lots of Books" button, the chart will show up.
     
  12. DefinitelyMaybe

    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether or not it's 'acceptable', it looks ugly to me. I wouldn't use it. If I find myself writing 'had had', I immediately rewrite the sentence.
     
  13. thirdwind

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Just as an FYI, some house styles don't allow contractions (for fiction, no contractions in the narrative). I don't know how true this is in fiction anymore since contractions are very common, but it's certainly true for journal papers and professional documents.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I see "had had" fairly often in fiction, so I don't think it's an issue. One of those things writers fixate on and readers probably don't even notice.
     

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