Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Had he breakfast this morning?

Is ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’ correct English?

Since ‘You have no idea where they live’’s and ‘You have nothing better to do’’s respective inquisitive forms—‘Have you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Have you nothing better to do?’, their past tense forms being ‘Had you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Had you nothing better to do?’—are correct, following the same logic, isn’t ‘He had breakfast this morning’’s inquisitive form, ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’, likewise correct?

Please read the full question. I’m looking for a logically (hopefully) justified answer. The more informative the answer is, the better.

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Hi. The verb 'have' has three main functions:
As a main stative verb, eg: possession as in have a car, have an idea etc
As a main active verb, eg: have lunch, gave a shower etc
As an auxiliary(helping) verb in perfect tenses - I have already done it.

You can use the inverted 'Have you' construction when 'have' is an auxiliary verb and a stative main verb, but not when it's an active main verb. Then you have to invert with the appropriate auxiliary.

Do you have lunch every day?
Are you having lunch today?
Have you already had lunch?

When 'have' is the auxiliary verb you must of course invert.

When 'have' is a main stative verb you have a choice, in BrE at least:

Have you any idea where he lives?
Do you have any idea where he lives?

I tell my foreign students they are safer always using the 'Do you?' forms rather than the 'Have you?' forms when 'have' is the main verb. Which I think is also more common in the States. The 'Have you?' form, although sometimes used in the UK, is more formal. In BrE we tend to use 'have got' for possession anyway.

And the same goes, of course, for negatives.

Warsaw Will Nov-20-2011

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Sorry - that should be "have a shower", obviously

Warsaw Will Nov-20-2011

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I think I gave you a logical explanation, but perhaps not the answer - No, we can't say ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’ - the correct answer is 'Did he have breakfast this morning'. For the reasons already given.

Warsaw Will Nov-20-2011

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Another, more awkward but no less correct option is "Had he had breakfast this morning?", where the first "had" is auxiliary and the second is a main active verb.

Kyle1 Nov-20-2011

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Oh, I see now. Thank you, Warsaw, for the helpful answer. :)

sigurd Nov-20-2011

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Actually, "Had he had breakfast this morning" is not a question, as it is not a complete sentence. It could be used as a clause, as in "Had he had breakfast this morning, he would have had more energy." "Has he had breakfast this morning?" would be the correct form (at least in American English), in addition to previously stated answer.

Jen1 Nov-20-2011

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I would add that the question, "Had he breakfast this morning?" is in an anachronistic format. I don't think that it is wrong ... just very old-fashioned and not used in today's style. I would never teach it.

If you're taking a test or trying to explain it, follow Warsaw Will's rede along with Jen's followup.

If you're writing a story set back in the Middle Ages or Renaissance Period, go ahead and use it.

AnWulf Nov-20-2011

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Yes, it's old-fashioned English. Older forms of English have grammar that's more Germanic in nature.

bubbha Nov-21-2011

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In support of Kyle, I had assumed he was meaning this as past perfect, (in addition to my present perfect example), not as an inverted 3rd conditional (to use an ESL/EFL term) as Jen has interpreted. It looks a bit strange on its own, but can perfectly well be a question.

He looked starving. Had he had breakfast this morning? she wondered. "Would you like something to eat?", she asked.

Warsaw Will Nov-21-2011

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Not an attempt to incite wrath, but a genuine query: wouldn't that be "He looked starved"? or can "He looked starving." be correct?

Hacovo Nov-30-2011

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@Hacovo - No wrath incited. For me there is a difference in meaning. In British English, at least, 'starving' just means very hungry. 'God, I'm starving. What's for supper?', but 'starved' is rather stronger - 'That dog looks starved. Haven't the owners being feeding it properly?'

As I thought, it's a BrE/AmE thing. Scroll down to idioms:

Warsaw Will Dec-02-2011

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True, I'm American (guilty, sadly).
What you say makes perfect sense. In my head I think 'starved - to starve due to an imposed restriction of food; starving - beyond hungry'. The second being something that could be self-imposed, or simply due to busy-ness or the like.
Thanks for the culture lesson :)

Hacovo Dec-06-2011

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It's fine as an example of pre-WW1 English. Many more Germanic (or should that be germanic ) English constructs all but died out by the 1950s. If you are writing a period drama, the following two are correct.

"Had he breakfast this morning?" - Spoken, rising intonation.
"Has he breakfasted this morning?" - Spoken, rising intonation.

As for me, I say "Had he breakfast this morning?" to stand out from my peers.

Aeomer Jan-11-2012

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Compare the French question constructions of either inverting subject and verb, or preceding sentence with "est-ce que". Usually either is correct.

porsche Jan-13-2012

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I'm digging this website (colloquialism, not the website), but can't allow two different attempts by Hacovo to incite wrath -- one that he/she consciously admitted (although in good faith) while the other I'm assuming was unconsciously added -- pass without providing the reaction so justly deserved.

(I’m writing this mostly in defense of an ideal and not a personal retort… and I know it’s not at all in line with this thread… but needed to comment even still…)

Ignoring his/her admission that being born an American is somehow “sad” would signify that I’ve fallen prey to the virus-like complacency that too often saturates us all (“Oh, just let it go…”).

I'm sure you were playing to, what seems to be, an audience of those with the opinion that there is a linguistic benefit in being from England (or at the very least they recognize the differences and may adhere to the “they/we were here first” mentality), and in doing so meant no serious offense to we Americans who so often struggle mightily with the basics of spoken and written word , but such behaviors (condemning the group from which you spawned in hopes of leapfrogging to another) can be, in the very least, annoying and at the opposite end, incendiary. I’d rate your comment as annoying, at the very least.

There is a charm and comfort in the colloquial manner in which some Americans speak and write that I'm sure would find comparisons to some of the "lesser", "lower" forms of British English... like, oh, I don't know, Cockney.

Bottom line, America is badass -- and that badassness is not dependent upon using language to its highest standard, nor your opinion of what it means to be born an American. Given that we live in a free country you’re well within your rights, about which you need no reminder from a little, American mind, to study British English and leave the linguistically ambiguous mess of American English, a language that was largely altered from its British origins by immigrants from ALL ACROSS Europe (making it somewhat amazing that it can function as a language), to those of us who can appreciate the variety and depth with which it allows us to speak and write.

Apologies for taking this thread on a detour, and more apologies if I approached anything close to “trolling”. I’m an aspiring science-fiction writer (who hopes to write in a more accessible, colloquial style than say, Isaac Asimov) and I find the website useful and insightful – so I would have liked to keep my mouth shut, but I also fly an American flag in my front yard and am eternally grateful to have been born in the biggest melting pot the world has ever seen and afforded opportunities and rights that most people, even in today’s world, will never get to experience.

Whereas you are sad, I am truly humbled and honored to be an American, as I feel everyone should be when thinking of their respective countries.

big picture Mar-27-2012

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@Big Picture ... I don't think that American English is any more ambiguous than British English. AE has kept many older forms that have fallen out of BE while at the same time, creating new words and challenging old and often baseless pedantic rules.

You speak of regionalisms and colloquial style. While many "Suthernisms" have spread beyond the South, it still has many olden shapes that pedantic English teachers say is "wrong" when it turns out that they are ok.

In the South, saying something like: She was sore tempted, will likely get a rise out of the high school English teacher. But "sore" as both an adj. and a flat adv. meaning "extremely, utterly" has been here since Middle English. There is nothing wrong with it.

AE is not better than BE nor is BE better than AE, they're only different and being different is not a bad thing.

AnWulf Mar-28-2012

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@AnWulf... That was exactly my point :)

My initial post was loaded with sarcasm to illustrate the absurdity of Hacovo's "sad admission" of being American because of a misguided personal opinion that there is an identifiable benefit to one style of speaking/writing over another. Like you said, AE/BE are simply different and that in no way equates to one being better than the other.

My initial intent was to defend America (in a sarcastic, light-hearted manner), because no one should "sadly admit" to being born here, and I tied my defense into the AE/BE topic of the thread, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, which is probably where things got a little fuzzy.

I believe we're of the same mind.

big picture Mar-29-2012

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"Ali hasn't had breakfast this morning" Please can you tell me if this sentence is correct?

qurat May-21-2013

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Actually I'm translating from another language and in that language its in the present perfect tense

qurat May-21-2013

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@qurat - "Ali hasn't had breakfast this morning" - is perfectly correct, as long as we are still in the morning, in which case we are talking about the current time period. In theory, at least, Ali could still have breakfast this morning, so present perfect is the right tense to use (in British English, in any case).

If it's the afternoon or later however, past simple would be more appropriate - "Ali didn't have breakfast this morning".

If by any chance you're translating from Spanish, the rules for using pretérito perfecto with present time periods, and pretérito indefinido with and past time periods, are exactly the same as in English.

Where it gets a bit more complicated is with expressions like today, which can be divided up into parts:

Salesman to his colleague at 4pm - I've opened four new accounts today.
Same man to his wife at 8pm - I opened four new accounts today.

You might think that "today" was the current time period in both cases, so both should have present perfect. But in the second case he is really thinking of his working day, which is now finished, and so a past time period.

Warsaw Will May-22-2013

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While I would say "did he have breakfast?", if the "have" version is also correct, then it would be "has he had breakfast?", not "had he had breakfast?" The "had he had" version would be, er, the past perfect?

And Will, while your explanation certainly makes sense, I can't help but think of "baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?..." :)

porsche May-23-2013

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