The difference between “had you” and “have you”

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A client asked in a free grammar question:

What is the difference between had you surfed here before? and have you surfed here before?

The answer has to do with two of the verb tenses we use to describes actions in the past: “had you” is in the past perfect tense, and “have you” is in the present perfect.
Past perfect is used when we are talking about an event in the past relative to another event in the past.
Present perfect is used when we are talking about an event in the past relative to the present moment.
So, as we stand looking at the big waves crashing BEFORE we surf, you could turn to me and say “Have you surfed here before?”
But AFTER we have had our surfing fun, you would say “Had you surfed here before?” because our surfing experience of today is completed and in the past. Often the second time marker is included in the sentence. “Had you surfed here before today?” “Had humans landed on the moon before 1969?”

About Peter J. Francis

Peter J. Francis is owner and operator of HyperGraphix Publishing Services (HGPublishing.com). He has over 30 years of professional writing and editing experience. He holds a BA (Honors) degree in English (1987), a B. Ed. degree from SFU (2005) and a certificate in Special Education from SFU (2011). He teaches high school and offers editing services as time is available.