Have, Has, or Had: Which to Use?

Have, Has, or Had: Which to Use?

Using verbs in English grammar can be really tricky, so many ESL and EFL learners tend to avoid them, which is obviously impossible. Verbs are critical in making sentences because they are the main part of the predicate. They come in different forms and are used in different ways to make a sentence mean differently.

In this article, we’ll focus on the verbs HAS, HAVE, and HAD. They all show possession and are either used as a transitive verb or as an auxiliary verb.

Transitive verbs are action verbs that need a direct object (someone or something that receives the action). You may contest that neither of the verbs mentioned show any action. However, possession or the act of owning is, in fact, an action. You just don’t see it like think, see, digest, hear, listen, and the like.

Auxiliary verbs (or helping verbs) assist the main verb. In this case, HAS, HAVE, and HAD help with the tenses.

So, when can we use them appropriately?


Have, Has, or Had: Which to Use?
source: giphy

HAVE and HAS are both used in the present tense. They only differ when used in person (point-of-view) and in number.

HAVE is used for the singular first-person point-of-view. This means the subject of the sentence is the personal pronoun, I.

Example:         I have two balloons.

(I = subject; have = transitive verb; balloons = direct object)

HAVE is used for the singular/plural second-person point-of-view. This means the subject of the sentence is the personal pronoun, You.

Example:         You have dozens of reports to finish.

(You = subject; have = transitive verb; dozens of reports = direct object)

HAVE is used for the plural third-person point-of-view. This means the subject may be plural nouns or the personal pronoun, They.

Examples:       They have many cupcakes for sale.

                        (They = subject; have = transitive verb; cupcakes = direct object)

                        Applicants have many requirements to fulfill.

                        (Applicants = subject; have = transitive verb; requirements = direct object)

HAS is used for the singular third-person point-of-view. This means the subject is a singular noun or the personal pronouns, She/ He/ It.

Examples:       She has no suitors.

                        (She = subject; has = transitive verb; suitors = direct object)

                        He has many girlfriends.

                        (He = subject; has = transitive verb; girlfriends = direct object)

                        It has a lot of milk.

                        (It = subject; has = transitive verb; milk = direct object)

                        The car has no license plate.

                        (car = subject; has = transitive verb; license plate = direct object)

HAVE and HAS are used as auxiliary verbs to form the present perfect and present perfect-progressive tenses. The rules above still apply when the subject is concerned. However, to form the two tenses mentioned we add other verbs.

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Present Perfect Tense (Subject + HAVE/HAS + Past Participle verb)

  • I have waited for three long hours just to see you.
  • You have eaten the last slice of cake.
  • They have practiced for weeks just for this day.
  • The dogs have wrecked my garden.
  • She has stolen my case.
  • It has spoiled my cocktail.
  • Ryan has done nothing to help.

Present Perfect-Progressive Tense (Subject + HAVE/HAS + Been + Verb-ing)

  • I have been baking cakes for two years now.
  • You have been staring at him for the past 30 minutes.
  • They have been trimming the trees yearly for nearly a decade now.
  • The Stevensons have been competing in marathons for years.
  • He has been waiting for you all night.
  • It has been noted for further deliberation.
  • Helen has been studying for nearly five hours now


Have, Has, or Had: Which to Use?
source: giphy

HADis merely the past form of the transitive HAVE and HAS. Persons (points-of-view) and number are of no consequence with this form. This means you can use either a plural or singular subject in any point-of-view (first-person, second-person, or third-person). And, because it is used in the past tense, HAD is used as an auxiliary verb to form the past perfect and the past perfect-progressive tenses. Here are some examples:

As a Transitive Verb:

  • I had two slices of cake, while you had three cups of tea.
  • The cats had lunch, but they had no breakfast.
  • Lois had love to give, yet it had no recipient.
  • She had his love, and he had her trust.

As an Auxiliary Verb for the Past Perfect Tense (Subject + HAD + Past Participle verb)

  • By the time he realized his mistake, she had already gone.
  • Maria had known about the affair for a while.

As an Auxiliary Verb for the Past Perfect-Progressive Tense (Subject + HAD + Been + Verb-ing)

  • He had been eating chocolate when Mom walked into the kitchen.
  • I had been studying English for five years when I took the IELTS.

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