Lucy thanked me for what I have/had done.

Here the action of thanking is being done as a result of something that happens prior to thanking. Thanked shows the action has already been completed.

So I think had should be correct over here, but I'm confused because of the answer given in the textbook which says it should be have.

  • Either variant could be correct, depending on the situation being described. The difference between them is simply that the 'had' variant is backshifted with respect to the 'have' variant. – Erik Kowal Mar 23 '15 at 6:31
  • Unless there's more context given, the answer is simply wrong. The "right" tense to put there is had. Without context, it's a better choice than have. – Peter Shor Mar 23 '15 at 11:42

It depends on the context.

Suppose that Lucy one week ago had thanked me in advance for the party I was about to plan for her daughter's birthday, a party that Lucy herself could not attend because she had to fly out of the country. Today, one week later in the present, I might describe Lucy's past thanks to me like this:

Lucy thanked me for what I have done.

But if my planning of the party had occurred before the thanking, I would say:

Lucy thanked me for what I had done.


Yes, context is the issue, and conjugation is a tremendous challenge for ESL students. When in doubt, match past-tense thanked with past-tense "did"

However, here's the rundown on the tenses mentioned.

Lucy thanked you for what you did. (while she was on vacation: watered her flowers on Wednesday)

Lucy thanked you for what you had done (during her three-week preparation for exams: provided her reference materials, edited her papers, and coached her with test exams). She passed the exams. (case closed)

Lucy thanked you for what you have done (since her husband died: mowed the lawn weekly, took the kids to movies and sporting events, assisted in the family business) Husband is still dead, you are still helping her, and it is probable you will help her in the future (case still pending)


Usually one would use "have ..." when the action performed was recent. For example:

'I have arrived home,' said Bob.

In this example one can assume that Bob has just entered the house because of the "have".

As for "had ...", it is common in recounting previous events. For example:

'It was a Tuesday afternoon and I had arrived home.'

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.