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Hi all,

Suppose you’re working at your desk and a colleague comes up to you and says “Had you had breakfast when you got to work today?” What would you answer?

a) Yes, as a matter of fact I already had had breakfast when I got on the bus to work!

b) Say what??? Ah, you mean “Did I have breakfast before going to work?”, right? Yeah, I did.

You see, I have recently received an exam in which I am supposed to (orally) ask the above question. The student is supposed to answer using the past perfect tense. If they don’t, I am to assume that they are not answering correctly.

Now, quite frankly, I find that the proposed question is rather odd, especially in the spoken register. It appears to inquire about the specific moment when the person arrived at work, whereas a more common version of the same question would probably inquire about the breakfast in the simple past. So I would like to ask you people a few questions, just to see whether my doubts are shared by others.

How often do you inquire about past events using the past perfect?

If someone put the above question to you in the past perfect, would you likely answer in the same tense, or would you use the simple past? And, finally, would you mark an answer in the simple past as incorrect?
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Had you had breakfast when you got to work today? Not correct, IMO. One doesn't use the past perfect for symultaneous actions, only for previous actions.

Alternatives:
Had you had breakfast before you got/came to work today?
Did you have breakfast when you got/came to work today?
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I agree with you - it's not incorrect, but it's odd for this type of use.

I suppose that if your company was having a breakfast for all the employees, and someone forgot, and is telling you they were disappointed to not eat the company breakfast but they were already flll ... you could say "Oh, had you had your breakfast (already) when you got to work?" But you are absolutely right, the far more common thing to say is "Did you have your breakfast before you got to work?" or "Did you eat breakfast beore you got to work?"

And yes, the person could reply in the simple past quite correctly: Yes, I ate breakfast at home before I left for work.

Or even: No, but I have eaten since then.
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Comments  
Marius HancuHad you had breakfast when you got to work today? Not correct, IMO. One doesn't use the past perfect for symultaneous actions, only for previous actions.

Alternatives:
Had you had breakfast before you got/came to work today?
Did you have breakfast when you got/came to work today?

Agreed!
 BarbaraPA's reply was promoted to an answer.
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Well, I do feel better now...after all, my intuitions seem to be shared by other proficient speakers.

Thanks everyone!
Hi guys,

“Had you had breakfast when you got to work today?” What would you answer?

a) Yes, as a matter of fact I already had had breakfast when I got on the bus to work!

b) Say what??? Ah, you mean “Did I have breakfast before going to work?”, right? Yeah, I did.



I'd like to add a couple of brief comments to what has already been said about this.

The grammatical form of the question usually influences the grammatical form of the answer. In addition, the answer does not usually repeat the full question. So, if you asked me this question, I'd probably answer, quickly and simply, No, I hadn't or Yes, I had.

The student is supposed to answer using the past perfect tense. If they don't, I am to assume that they are not answering correctly. Some examiners seem to assume incorrectly that there is only one correct answer. In addition, it is often difficult to frame a question in a way that permits only one answer. This is certainly true when trying to force people to use the past perfect.

But good luck in trying to convince an examiner that she/he is wrong.Emotion: smile

Best wishes, Clive