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Helping Verbs: To Have

The simple past — fell, broke, forgot, regretted, etc. — is simple: The lamp fell and broke. I forgot the milk. Errors can creep in, however, when the helping verb to have is needed.


  • Apparently he had ate my dinner when he broke in.
  • I seen him when he crept out from the kitchen.
  • Zahra agreed to wait at the shop before she realized that her purse was at home.


The perfect form indicates that an action has been completed. “He had eaten my dinner” means that dinner is now gone. Because this construction adds an extra step in understanding, some speakers leave it out altogether, resulting in “I seen him.” Others add the correct version of have, but neglect to shift the verb, resulting in “He had ate.” When two parts of a sentence occur at different times, it can be tempting to put both parts of the sentence in the past tense, but “Zahra had agreed” before she realized that she didn’t have her purse.


Adding a variant of have to a word in past tense turns it into a “perfect” construction. I have fallen (present perfect), I had fallen (past perfect), and I will have fallen (future perfect) are all variants. Some verbs change when the sentence shifts into perfect tense: fall, have fallen; ate, have eaten; saw, have seen, etc., but most stay the same (regretted, have regretted).

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