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Had Already or Have Already: Which is Correct?

English tenses can become fairly complicated once you get past the basics of the language. For example, to understand whether to use “has already” or “had already,” it’s essential to grasp the nuances of meaning each term implies and the type of past tense you’re trying to convey.

Both “had already” and “have already” are correct in the proper context, as both refer to actions performed in the past but they imply different timing. The expression “have already” is present perfect tense and means that something that started in the past is still continuing. The term “had already” is past perfect tense and means that some action had been completed at a specific point in the past.

This article will explore the use of the perfect tenses and how they vary from simple tenses. We’ll also consider the role of the verb “to have” in constructing perfect tenses. Finally, we’ll examine the word “already” and how it adds another layer of meaning to sentences.

Tense Basics

English has three basic tenses: present, past, and future. We can express each of these in either simple, perfect, continuous (or progressive), or perfect continuous aspects. We will use the verb “to have” as a helping or auxiliary verb when creating perfect tenses and the verb “to be” when creating continuous tenses.

Let’s consider the verb “to work” and see how we can use it in each of these tenses.

TenseExample
Present SimpleI work.
Present PerfectI have worked all my life.
Present ContinuousI am working.
Present Perfect ContinuousI have been working since I was 18.
Past SimpleI worked.
Past PerfectI had worked for 50 years before I retired.
Past ContinuousI was working when the disaster occurred.
Past Perfect ContinuousI had been working for 10 years before Anne joined.
Future SimpleI will work.
Future PerfectI will have worked longer than anyone else by next year.
Future ContinuousI will be working next Saturday.
Past Perfect ContinuousI will have been working for a decade by then.

You will notice from the examples that we need to use other words to provide the context so that we know what time period we’re talking about. If, for example, we just said, “I have worked,” it doesn’t give enough information. We need to say, “I have worked all my life,” to provide the context that helps the sentence make sense.

Which One Is Correct: ”I Have Already” or ”I Had Already” ?

As we mentioned, we use the verb “to have” for the perfect tenses. On its own, “to have” is an irregular verb. This means it doesn’t follow the usual rules that govern verbs. Instead, we conjugate it as follows:

PresentFuturePast
I have
You/we/they have
He/she/it has
I will have
You/we/they will have
He/she/it will have
I had
You/we/they had
He/she/it had

If you’re wondering what is the difference between “had” and “have,” then this should clarify —  “have” is the present tense, and “had” is the past tense. 

That should also help answer the question of when should I use “have” or “had” — if you are speaking in any of the present tenses, then you will use “have,” and if you are speaking in any of the past tenses, then you will use “had.” 

The verb has many uses. Here is a summary of some of the many ways we use “have” (source).

MeaningExamples
To show possessionI have three pairs of black shoes.She has a new car.
To introduce events or experiencesI’m going to have a bath.Did you have a good time at the mall?
To indicate consuming somethingThey had a special meal on her birthday.How many bananas did you have?
To indicate routinesI had a bath before climbing into bed.    I love having massages!
To introduce conversationsDid you have a chat with Jack?They had an argument about the vacation.

“Have” as an Auxiliary Verb

When we see “have” in the perfect tenses, then it is an auxiliary or helping verb. These are words such as “have,” “be,” or ”do” that combine with the main verb to indicate changes in subject or time (source).

Together with the main verb, “have” creates the perfect tenses that indicate when something has happened. For example, consider the sentences below in each of the perfect tenses.

  • I have been to Europe nine times.
  • I had been to Europe nine times before the borders closed.
  • I will have been to Europe 9 times before I turn 60.

The first sentence is in the present perfect tense, which indicates that something has happened and may continue to happen into the future. The second sentence is past perfect, which indicates that something happened before something else happened. In this sentence, the “something else” is that the borders are closed.

The final sentence is future perfect, indicating something that will be completed before some other point in the future. In this case, the “other point” is when I turn 60.

What Is the Meaning of “Have Had?”

Sometimes in the perfect tenses, we use “have” as a helping verb together with “have” as the main verb. In this case, we end up with “have had” or “had had.” Consider the examples below to understand how to use “have had” in a sentence.

  • I have had chickenpox, so I’m not worried about catching it again.
  • They have had a difficult time since the fire destroyed their house.
  • We have had many happy holidays in that town.

Now, let’s consider using “had had” in the past perfect tense. You will see from the examples that it doesn’t sound as awkward as you may imagine.

  • By the time he arrived, she had had enough of waiting.
  • They had had too many bad meals to consider revisiting that restaurant.
  • Jane had had an argument with him before he stormed out.

What About “Already”? 

In examining our title phrase, we must be clear about the meaning of “already” because it can also alter the essence when we use it in a sentence.

“Already” is an adverb that we use to show that something has happened before the moment we are speaking about. We usually use “already” to emphasize that something has happened “before now” or to show surprise that something has happened before we expected (source). 

Using “Already” in Sentences

“Already” can refer to something in the present or past but cannot refer to something in the future. We also don’t use “already” in negative sentences. Consider the sentences below.

  • We have already sold more than half the tickets, and we’ve only just opened!
  • She was already seated at the table when he arrived at the restaurant.
  • Get further discounts off our already low prices!

We mostly use “already” in the perfect tenses. In present perfect, it means “before now,” and in the past perfect or future perfect, it translates best as “before then.” Consider the following examples in each of the perfect tenses.

Present Perfect:

  • You missed seeing them; they have already left.
  • He wanted to go out for lunch, but I have already eaten.
  • We have already booked our Christmas vacation, and it’s only March!

Past Perfect:

  • They had already left, so I missed the chance to say goodbye.
  • I had already eaten when he invited me for lunch.
  • Had you already heard about his problems before you saw him?

Future Perfect:

  • They will have already fetched their luggage by the time you get there.
  • By next month, she will have already written the first two chapters.
  • I will have already packed before the taxi arrives.

Speakers of American English may also use “already” just with the simple past tense of a verb rather than a perfect tense, as we demonstrate in the examples below. This is less common in British English and more likely in everyday conversation rather than formal written English.

  • I already told you not to call me again.
  • She already left New York.
  •  We already ate dinner.

Using “Has Already” and “Had Already” in a Sentence

As you will have seen from the earlier examples, “already” functions much like other adverbs, and we usually place it between the subject and the main verb (or after the auxiliary verb) (source).

  • Jane has already made dinner.
  • The family had already heard the bad news before the police arrived.
  • We had already voted before the polling station closed.

Sometimes, we place “already” at the end of a sentence. This is especially to show surprise or give greater emphasis, as we show below.

  • Gosh, Jane has finished dinner already!
  • Have you booked your trip already?
  • Has she arrived already?

Rarely, we place “already” at the beginning of a sentence. We would likely do this in formal writing, and it’s not something you’re likely to hear in everyday conversation.

  • Already more than half the adult population has been vaccinated.
  • Already the army’s withdrawal has been witnessed.
  • Already we have sold more than a million copies of the book.

I Have Already or I Had Already?

If you’re still wondering which expression is correct, “I have already” or “I had already,” remember that it depends on which of the perfect tenses you are using.

The auxiliary verb “has/have” signals present perfect — an action completed from some time in the past up to now. The auxiliary verb “had” signals past perfect — an action completed from some time in the past to another time in the past.

Consider the sentences below, which will help us in deciding whether to use “have/has” or “had.”

  • I have already grilled the steak.
  • I had already grilled the steak.

Both of these sentences are correct. However, what’s missing is the context that will help us determine whether to use past perfect or present perfect. If we add in some further information, it should be clear.

Read the sentences below and decide whether we should use “have” or “had.”

  • I had/have already grilled the steak before he said he was vegetarian.
  • Hurry up with the salad; I had/have already grilled the steak!

It should be clear that the first sentence is past perfect and we should use “had” — I had grilled the steak in the past, and he said he was vegetarian, also in the past. 

The second sentence is present perfect, and we should use “have” — I completed the action of grilling the steak, and now, in the present, you must hurry with the salad.

Image by Louis Hansel via Unsplash

Other Verbs

Let’s look at some other verbs that we commonly use with “has/had already.” You may wonder whether we should say “had already been” or “have already been.” What about “have already had” or “had already had?”

Each of these is correct, but you just need to know which perfect tense you’re using so that you select the correct one. This article is written for strategiesforparents.com.

  • I have already been to the store, so I can’t help you.
  • I had already been to the store before he asked me to buy milk.
  • I have already had my medicine today.
  • I had already had my medicine before he reminded me.

To read more about this complex topic, click here to read “Has Been or Had Been: How to Use the Perfect Tense.”

Final Thoughts

As you progress with mastering the English language, you will come across examples that may seem confusing. However, it’s always useful to refer to the grammar rules you have learned, which will help you understand the speaker’s intent.

In the case of “had already” vs. “have already,” it’s important that you have a clear picture of the perfect tenses. You will then know that “have already” is present perfect and “had already” is past perfect, and you’ll be able to choose which is appropriate in your context.

Sentences don’t exist in a vacuum, and you must be clear on the context of what you’re saying. Some English words convey information about time, so if you’re saying, “have already,” then you’re talking about something that happened up until now. 

If you’re saying, “had already,” then you’re talking about something that happened before something else.