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Is the word "had" necessary in the following text?

This is a retrospective study covering the period from 2001 to 2010. Prospectively collected data of 500 consecutive patients who (had) received liver transplantation at our center were reviewed.

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No, it is certainly not necessary, and probably not even desirable. –  tchrist May 12 '13 at 19:16
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The "had" is extraneous. I'd also lose the 'ation in transplantation. What's wrong with "transplants"? Also, using the passive mode ("were reviewed") can become habitual and lifeless. Better: "We reviewed data collected prospectively from 500 consecutive patients who received liver transplants at our center." While you're at it, why not begin your text with "From 2001 to 2010, we collected data prospectively from 500 consecutive patients who received liver transplants at our center. In this retrospective study we intend to . . .." –  rhetorician May 12 '13 at 19:41
    
@tchrist: If the "had" is not necessary and even not desirable, then it makes me wondering what/when the past perfect tense exists for. Would you elaborate a bit more, please? –  yong May 13 '13 at 3:08
    
@rhetorician: If the "had" is extraneous, then it makes me wondering what/when the past perfect tense exists for. Would you elaborate a bit more, please? –  yong May 13 '13 at 3:08
    
'Had' in this context indicates that the study examined records that were already available (of people who had already received transplants when the study began), rather than examining, say, the records of the next 500 people who received transplants after January 1. As such, it appears to contradict prospectively here; is there more context that would show what was meant? –  TimLymington May 13 '13 at 22:07
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1 Answer 1

The following citation will probably be helpful to you:

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

As the above web site points out, two primary uses for the past perfect tense are:

USE 1 Completed Action Before Something in the Past.

The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It can also show that something happened before a specific time in the past. In your example, for the word had to be correct, you would need to fill in the implied "blank" in your sentence:

We reviewed prospectively collected data from 500 consecutive patients who had received liver transplants at our center ____________.

You fill in the "blank" by describing the action that took place after the transplants. For example:

We reviewed prospectively collected data from 500 consecutive patients who had received liver transplants at our center prior to becoming citizens of the United States.

In other words, the transplants came first; citizenship came second, after the transplants.

USE 2 Duration Before Something in the Past (Non-Continuous Verbs)

With Non-Continuous Verbs . . . we use the Past Perfect to show that something started in the past and continued up until another action in the past. This use is not relevant to your example. If, however, you wanted to use the past perfect tense correctly, your exemplar would be worded:

We reviewed data from patients who had had heart transplants at least three years before their liver transplants.

Notice the double "had." In other words, all the patients in this hypothetical study already had transplanted hearts by the time they received transplanted livers. If any of the above is unclear, feel free to ask more questions.

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Thank you for efforts in providing such detailed explanation. The thing troubling me is: In my example, there is an completed action (patients' receiving transplants) before something (our reviewing data) in the Past, so the example fits USE 1, and therefore it seems to me that the past perfect should be used. (But I believe that there is something I haven't grasped. Perhaps I am perfectly clear about when to use Past Perfect but not about when NOT to use it.) –  yong May 15 '13 at 1:50
    
Something more: In the abstract of the paper, there is this sentence "Among 500 consecutive patients who (had) received liver transplants at our center, 200 were included in this study." Does this example fit USE 1, justifying the use of Past Perfect? –  yong May 15 '13 at 2:46
    
I commend you on your desire to "get things right." I commend you as well on the great work you do. Rest assured, the vast majority of the people who read your study will neither notice how you use the past perfect tense nor care even if they do notice. "Don't sweat the small stuff." As long as your audience understands what you are saying, that is all that matters. By the way, you can keep the "had" if you lose the words "prospectively" and "received." Just say: "We reviewed data from 500 consecutive patients who had liver transplants at our center." –  rhetorician May 15 '13 at 13:25
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