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Hello,

I am having a little difficulty with past perfect tense. Here is what I know thus far:

Past perfect: used to describe sequence of events; I had lost my job when I got married, so I decided to move to another state.

Where does the collocation of have had fit into this. For example, They have had their breakfast already. Shouldn't this just be the simple past tense of the verb to have: They had their breakfast already. It's very common for people to use have had, but it's now throwing me off as to what actual verb tense it is.

Many kind thanks for anyone who can help me sort this out.
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They have had breakfast already / They had breakfast already.

The first is present perfect whereas the second is the preterit. Your example of the past perfect is well chosen.
The question is, "how to decide between the present perfect and the preterit?"

In this case, you have a choice. Both work. I often hear that British English uses the present perfect more often than American English. Whatever you choose, though, there is a slight difference.

Think of the Present perfect as a verb form that looks at a past action through the lense of the present (the past action has an impact on today). Whatever follows will more likely be in the present tense.

They have had breakfast already (that is why there are dishes in the sink; There is no need to cook anything...)

The preterit tense 'states' something. It is more matter-of-fact and deftly validates the subject/predicate relationship (They/ have breakfast --> yes. This is done)

This nuance in the two verbal forms is sometimes extremely important, in which case both Americans and the British will use the present perfect, and other times, it is less important (you can choose).

I hoep this is clear... and that others agree! ... my first post to this forum :-)
Comments  
"They have had their breakfast already" is present perfect. "Had" in this sentence is the main verb, not an auxilliary. "I have three apples." "To have" is "to possess." "I'm going to have my shots." "I have had my shots."

As in most cases, the choice between simple and perfect tenses is either optional or dependent on context.
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 Ronda's reply was promoted to an answer.
Hi Rhonda,

Welcome to EF.

Rather than "preterit," we usually say "simple past" but your explanation about the relationship to something in the present for using present perfect was perfect.
postmodernblissPast perfect: used to describe sequence of events; I had lost my job when I got married, so I decided to move to another state.
Hi PMB

The past perfect is necessary in your sentence in order to make it clear that "lost my job" happened first. If you had written "I lost my job when I got married", that would be understood to mean that first you got married and after that you lost your job. In fact, that sentence would also imply that getting married might have been the reason you lost your job.

In a sentence that contains a "when clause", with the verbs in both clauses used in the past simple, the action in the "when clause" is always what happened first. In this type of sentence, the two past actions frequently happened at very close to the same time. Nevertheless, the action in the "when clause" happened first.

Thus, the past perfect is absolutely necessary in your sentence in order to indicate that "lost my job" happened before "got married".

Here is another example:

- She fainted when she saw all the blood. => First she saw the blood, then she fainted. This sentence suggests that seeing all the blood caused her to faint.

- She had fainted when she saw all the blood. => Although this sentence is grammatically correct, it really doesn't make any sense. It would mean that first she fainted and then she saw all the blood. It suggests that she saw the blood while she was unconscious.

EDIT:

Another standard use of the past perfect is in the IF-clause of a "Type 3" conditional sentence:

- If I had studied for the test, I would have passed.

In this case, the past perfect refers to something that did not happen in the past (counter-factual).
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YankeeIt would mean that first she fainted and then she saw all the blood.
As an isolated sentence, it does seem like that. Nevertheless, context is everything.

She entered the room and saw the body covered with blood. She felt her knees giving way. Not three minutes later, someone else entered the room and saw her on the floor near the bloody body. It was obvious what had happened. She had fainted when she saw all the blood.

Emotion: smile

CJ
Right you are, CJ. I agree with you about the broader context being critical, and your "had happened" was another good example for the use of the past perfect.
postmodernbliss I am having a little difficulty with past perfect tense.

Where does the collocation of have had fit into this.

simple past tense of the verb to have: They had their breakfast already. Sorry, pmb, somehow I completely missed this,
and thought you were taking "have had" as some kind of tense marker.
Emotion: smile
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