Being a non native speaker of English I am not sure about the usage of had. In my academics I have learned that had is only used to show that something happened prior to some event in the past according to rule of past perfect. Like we do say

When we reached the station, the train had left the station.

But now-days I see usage of had to show some past events irrespective of any prior event. Like I have listen

What had made you so tensed?

According to my teacher this sentence is wrong as there is no prior event associated with it.

Could anyone clear my confusion about over all possible correct usage of had used in past events?

  • 1
    Your question asks for "all possible and correct usages of had"? That means all past, current, & future uses of "had". Impossible. The first sentence would be better as "When we reached the station, the train had (already) left". The second one implies a prior event, but without more information, there's no context for an inference about what it might have been. It'd be good enough to add something like "that you couldn't hit a high C?" (i.e., didn't sing or play the trumpet well during a concert). – user21497 Nov 24 '12 at 9:32
  • @BillFranke Its for sure that I am talking about past tense so how "had" would come in to picture in present and future tense.I mean to say all correct usage of had used in past. – Sudhir Nov 24 '12 at 9:51
  • Barrie's answer should be sufficient. I have nothing more to add. – user21497 Nov 24 '12 at 9:57

Both examples use the past perfect construction to refer to a past event that occurred before another past event. There’s no previous event explicitly referred to in the second example, but there could well be elsewhere in the text. For example, it could have followed a speech such as ‘At that time I was feeling really anxious.’ (The subsequent question is more likely to occur as ‘What had made you so tensed up?’)

  • Its 100% sure that "had" is used to show that something happened prior to some event in the past or there may be some other variation? – Sudhir Nov 24 '12 at 9:46
  • I'm reluctant to say that any statment about language is '100% sure', but, yes, that is generally the case, but please don't ask me to list any exceptions. – Barrie England Nov 24 '12 at 9:56
  • 2
    @BarrieEngland: You could have said, "...but you had better not ask me to list any exceptions." :^) – J.R. Nov 24 '12 at 10:41

If I told you:

"I was feeling very tense yesterday?"

Then you could respond:

"Really? What made you so tense?"


"Really? What had made you so tense?"

Neither is grammatically incorrect. However, the had isn't necessary, because made is a past tense verb already.

Incidentally, I wouldn't call the expression "what had made you so" grammatically incorrect, but it appears to be rarely used. When I did a Google book search:

  • "What had made you so" returned 19 results
  • "What has made you so" returned about 8,600 results
  • "What made you so" returned over 51,000 results

So, it the verb tense used? Yes, it's not an illegal sentence. That said, while I wouldn't call your first sentence "wrong," I would probably agree with your teacher that your first sentence could be improved by eliminating the "had".

  • That's okay.But my question is apart from association of prior event "had" can be used in other instances? – Sudhir Nov 24 '12 at 9:57
  • If the word "had" is used as part of a verb tense (e.g., "He had eaten a huge breakfast"), then that means a reference to the past. However, the word "had" can be used in other ways, such as "You had better be home by 11 o'clock!" or, "I've had it with you!" (Those are meanings 23 and 26 at Collins; that many meanings implies we're dealing with a rather flexible word.) – J.R. Nov 24 '12 at 10:36

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