Difference between Had and Have

Updated on April 1, 2017

The sentences “I had a pet hamster” and “I have a pet hamster” may sound like they have the same exact message. However, the use of “had” and “have” changes the meaning of the statements. In what way? If you cannot point a finger as to why the two statements are different, this article is for you.

Descriptions

Had

The word had is the past and past participle form of the verb “to have.” It is used for both singular and plural nouns and pronouns. Let us take a look at some examples below:

  • Tommy had a problem with his iPhone 5 so he stopped using it.
  • I can’t believe Jame’s family used to be filthy rich. I heard they had more than $70,000,000 in their bank accounts in 2001.
  • She had her first child when she was 19 years old.

It is also used in conditional statements, unreal scenarios, and wishes. For example:

  • I would have answered if he had asked.
  • I wish I had a helicopter so I could show you the beautiful panoramic view of New York.
  • What if you had never met your best friend?

“Had” is also paired with the past participle tense of the verb to form the past perfect tense. In this case, it expresses a past action that occurred before another action. Here are some examples:

  • I had heard his songs on the radio before you told me about him.
  • Luckily, Molly had read the book before her teacher announced the assignment.
  • After Faye’s dad had arrived to pick her up, her mom called.

“Had” plus the past participle form of the verb can also describe a past action started and stopped when another past action occurred. For example:

  • He had had that car before it was stolen.
  • Camille was greatly saddened about losing her diamond ring because she had owned it for 40 years.
  • By the time Max finished his college program, he had been in New York for over ten years.

“Had” is also used with the word “been” and the -ing form of the verb to talk about things that happened in the past and continued until a certain period in the past. This is called the past perfect continuous. Let us take a look at these sample sentences:

  • Maila longed to get some sleep because she had been doing field work all day.
  • Professor Williams had been teaching Physics at a prestigious university in New Zealand for over sixteen years before he was hired by NASA.
  • How long had you been waiting for his reply?

On the other hand, the word have is the base and present form of the verb “to have.” It is used with plural nouns and pronouns. For example:

  • Five students have failing grades.
  • They have ten cats and seven dogs.
  • We have a small farm in Texas.

The word “have” is also paired with the past participle form of the verb to form the present perfect tense. This expresses an action that started in the past and continues to the present. Let us take a look at these examples:

  • I have never seen a film by Quentin Tarantino.
  • The Jones kids have been helping their old neighbor for many years now.
  • We have been waiting for the manager for five hours!

When paired with the words “just” and “only,” “have” is also used to talk about something that recently happened.

  • I have just cleaned my kids’ bedrooms.
  • Reggie, Kevin, and Ron have only started working at Pop’s Sugar Haven a couple of days ago.
  • We have just contacted the network regarding the news.

Had vs Have

What, then, is the difference between “had” and “have”?

The greatest difference between the two is that “had” is the past form of the verb “to have.” It can be used for both singular and plural nouns and pronouns. Conversely, “have” is the present form and can be used for plural nouns and pronouns.

Additionally, “had” is used in conditional statements, unreal scenarios, and wishes. It is typically paired with the past participle tense of the verb to form the past perfect tense to express a past action that occurred before another action. The same formula can be used to describe a past action started and stopped when another past action occurred. “Had” is also paired with the word “been” and the -ing form of the verb to describe things that happened in the past and continued until a certain period in the past.

“Have” also goes together with the words “just” and “only” to indicate an action that recently happened. It is also paired with the past participle form of the verb to form the present perfect tense which expresses an action that started in the past and continues to the present.

Comparison Chart

HadHave
Past and past participle form of the verb “to have”The simple and present form of the verb “to have”
Used for both singular and plural nouns and pronounsUsed when the noun or pronoun is plural
Used in conditional statements, unreal scenarios, and wishes; paired with the past participle tense of the verb to form the past perfect tense, expressing a past action that occurred before another action; describes a past action started and stopped when another past action occurred; paired with the word “been” and the -ing form of the verb to describe things that happened in the past and continued until a certain period in the pastGoes with the words “just” and “only” to indicate an action that recently happened; also paired with the past participle form of the verb to form the present perfect tense which expresses an action that started in the past and continues to the present