I am not sure whether we can use two different instances of had in the following sentence:

When we had entered the ground, the circus had already begun.

According to my understanding, it should be:

When we entered the ground, the circus had already begun.

So kindly clear up my doubt.

3 Answers 3


The second sentence would usually be correct. The one rare exception is if you're talking about some time in the past, and both your entering and the circus beginning both took place prior to that. For example

We didn't see the ringmaster until half an hour after we had arrived and taken our seats. When we had entered the tent, the circus had already begun, and so we missed his first appearance.

And even in this contrived example, you could say "entered" instead of "had entered".

  • Because we arrived late, we did not see the ring master until a half hour after we took our seats. Because the show had aready begun, we missed the introduction of the performers.
    – lex
    Oct 20, 2012 at 18:14
  • Better yet: We arrived late so did not see the ringmaster until after a half hour in our seats. Since the show had already begun, we missed his introduction of the performers. From long experience and consultancy...non-English professors in technical discipline best be wary about standard English usages. Only good will intended.
    – lex
    Oct 20, 2012 at 18:23

To answer your question, the second sentence is correct. The formula to follow for constructing sentences in the past-perfect is had + past participle. That being said, the past participle of the verb "have" is "had." This means that yes you can have two instances of the word "had" with one in each clause of the sentence. I'm assuming you meant in separate clauses from your first sentence.

  • Formulas notwithstanding, actually the Q itself arises due to the virtual loss in recent years/decades, of distinction in use, first and foremost British use (and unfortunately spreading), of conjunctions: in your example, the catch-all substitution of when for after. The marked down answer gives the effective guideline...for removing the ambiguity that you already sense (which impelled you to ask the question.)
    – lex
    Oct 20, 2012 at 17:51

First a diction tweak. Ground should be grounds (unless that is a British way of saying). That said

The dependent and independent clauses are in conflict in the first sentence. Correct would be: When we had entered the grounds, the circus began. Less ambiguous would have been: After we had entered,...

Bear in mind that the two scenarios are not happening simultaneously, but as dictated by the dependent clause. In the first sentence, the action is happening in the past. In the first, the action is in the present.

  • Is that a sign of the degeneration of proficiency in language arts teaching at the elementary and secondary levels...and its reinforcement even at pre and post graduate levels. It once was often said that speaking well and a vocabulary will carry you far. Today's counterpart would hold that speaking well and a vocabulary will carry you only so far.
    – lex
    Oct 20, 2012 at 18:40
  • 1
    Your proposal, "... the circus began" is significantly different in meaning than "... the circus had already begun"
    – Jim
    Oct 20, 2012 at 23:45

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