"All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life."

Is this a grammatically correct sentence?

  • 4
    Do you have some reason for thinking it would not be? – Kit Z. Fox Nov 27 '13 at 17:42
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    too many "had" that make me feel not right – FindingNemo Nov 27 '13 at 17:46
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    Yes, it's correct. It's like this: He had had a lot of faith, but it had had no effect. There's a clause break after the second had showing where faith is sposta occur, but it's been moved to the front, changed to which or that, and subsequently deleted in the relative clause all the faith (which) he had had. The next had had is just the main verb phrase; the whole NP before it is the subject. This is not rocket science, by the way. If you understand it, you should be able to parse it; that's what grammar school is for. – John Lawler Nov 27 '13 at 17:49
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    You can use had eleven times in a row, there's even a Wikipedia article on that. If four are too much for you, you are welcome to reword. – RegDwigнt Nov 27 '13 at 17:49
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    Yes, if you are writing, try to avoid constructions that raise unnecessary questions. You might write around the problem with something like: "All of his faith had not effect on the outcome of his life." – Michael Owen Sartin Nov 27 '13 at 17:55

Grammatically correct from what I can tell, but stylistically ugly.

Some hads can be replaced by words which would hold the same or similar meaning in this context. By substitution, we can see the intended sense of the sentence more easily:

"All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life."

becomes with a "once"

"All the faith he once had had had no effect on the outcome of his life."

and so on,

"All the faith he had once had ended having no effect on the outcome of his life."

I think the perceived need for such constructs comes about due to a sense of governing tense in a paragraph. But I most often see past perfect sentences lead a paragraph, to be followed by simple past. This seems acceptable, and from a practical point of view, is clear enough and easy to understand.

I once had a dog. His coat was green. He had a penchant for bones.

Compare it too:

I once had a dog. His coat was once green. He once had a penchant for bones.

The understanding of an historical dog is already in play, so adding 'once' in fact ambiguates things. Similarly, the mess of the had had had had in the sentence above can be cleared up by a change of style.

"All the faith he once had had had no effect on the outcome of his life."

is not meaningfully different from

All the faith he once had held had rendered no effect on the outcome of his life."

and is not significantly different in meaning from

All the faith he once held [had or "ended up having"] no effect on the outcome of his life."

  • "stylistically ugly"? Seems to me more of a sentence that got a Mohawk for its shock value: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohawk_hairstyle – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 12 '13 at 18:37
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    "Mohawk for its shock value!" LOL! Pure gold. – shermy Dec 14 '13 at 0:53
  • @shermy, Are you sure a <had verbed> should follow a <had verbed>? In the Q, after the <had had>, it should follow with a single <had> isn't it? – Pacerier Mar 22 '18 at 9:13
  • @Pacerier "Should?" - no (stylistic opinion) - "may?" (grammatically correct), my guess is it can. If my initial substitution doesn't elucidate, perhaps consider "I had had a dog", being equivalent to "I did previously (had) once have (had) a dog". If that makes sense, then scale up to, "All the faith he had (did previously) had (once have), had (did previously) had (once have) no effect..." Note: comma inserted was mine, for clarity. Hope that helps! (The final 'once have' is also somewhat idiomatic in English. The last 'had' in context of a lifetime combines with "no" to mean "never did".) – shermy Mar 30 '18 at 9:34

A comma would help make it more readable:

All the faith he had had, had had no effect on the outcome of his life.

As this website says, in Para. 5.A.4:

Use commas to separate words repeated within a sentence to avoid confusion.
Whatever that is here that smells, smells just awful!
What she does, she does well.
She came in, in tears.

  • Who is whitesmoke? – Pacerier Mar 22 '18 at 9:15

It is correct. The two hads have different grammatical roles. The first one is a modifier and the second is the main verb in the sentence. Here is a sentence that is similarly constructed. "All of the clothes he owned made no effect on his overall appearance."


Something that is grammatically correct isn't necessarily good writing. For the reader's sake, one should find another way to express the idea. For example: All the faith he once possessed left no mark on the outcome of his life.


The sentence is not incorrect and like someone here suggested more of the 'had' words could be used in other sentences. But, I think this sentence could've been constructed with just three had's like, "All the faith he had had had no effect on the outcome of his life." Not sure why the fourth had was added...I suspect, it was more for dramatic effect.

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    There is no ‘dramatic effect’ in using the past perfect in this sentence (regardless of which of the clauses we’re talking about). It depends on the context the sentence is to be found in. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 2 '13 at 15:17

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