Even though the question contains the word had, I am referring to any forms of the word have. In English it's easy to think of a sentence which has two haves in it. For instance:

I have had enough on my plate.


He has had some good luck using that bat.

I have come across similar statements (unless I am entirely astray here) in German. The most recent example is the phrase die er eben noch gehabt hatte which is a part of the following sentence.

Er war ein wenig blass und außer Atem, aber ganz im Gegensatz zu der Eile, die er eben noch gehabt hatte, stand er nun wie angewurzelt in der offenen Tür.

I could understand the rest of the sentence reasonably well, but am confused at the part gehabt hatte. Since in my case this is a frequent occurrence, I was wondering if there're any rules regarding this.

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    It's the same as English "had had". But what's your question? – Em1 Jul 26 '14 at 18:32
  • The question is are there any rules governing the use of multiple hads? And I am skeptical about it being the same as English. The way I read die er eben noch gehabt hatte is he had had just yet which could have been easily written as he had just yet (in English only). This means either there's a redundancy in the use of hatte or there's a subtlety that is being missed in the translation. There're many sentences in German I have come across where I have thought that there could have easily been just one form of hatte. Damn, I loathe myself for my memory! – Shashank Sawant Jul 26 '14 at 18:41
  • In oral speech you likely hear "...die er zuvor noch hatte". Your sentence, however, sounds like excerpt from a book or so and there you certainly use past perfect in both languages English and German. "gehabt hatte" is used–like "had had"–for things that happened in the past before something else in the past. A quick but terrible translation: "He was out of breath[past] and in contrast to the hurry earlier[some point before that], which he had had[past perfect!], he was now standing rooted in the open door[past]. – Em1 Jul 26 '14 at 19:04

It is pretty much like Present or Past Perfect in English. In German they are called Perfekt (Present Perfect) and Plusquamperfekt (Past Perfect).

In Plusquamperfekt you use the form of the tense Imperfekt/Präteritum (ich hatte, du hattest, er/sie/es hatte, wir hatten, ihr hattet, sie hatten), followed by a Partizip Perfekt.

In Perfekt you use the form of the tense Präsens (ich habe, du hast, er/sie/es hat, wir haben, ihr habt, sie haben), followed by a Partizip Perfekt.

Plusquamperfekt is used like Past Perfect in English, meaning that something happened before something different happened, but both are in the past.

E.g. Gestern ging ich zu einen Freund (Yesterday, I went to a friend). Davor hatte ich gegessen (Before that, I had eaten).

Perfekt is used if something happened before something other happens. The latter one is in the present.

E.g. Ich schlafe gerade (I'm sleeping right now). Davor habe ich mir die Zähne geputzt (Before that, I brushed my teeth).

Ich schlafe gerade (I'm sleeping right now). Ich habe heute nacht nur drei Stunden geschlafen (I've slept only three hours tonight).

To answer your question: You can use [haben][haben] every time something happened before an event in you 'story' and it already uses [haben].

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Although Armin's answer is completely correct, I want to make the parallels between English and German formation of the verb forms more obvious:

In English each verb has (at least) three basic time forms:

  • (i) the present form
  • (ii) the past form
  • (iii) the past participle

The other tenses are formed by combining some of these basic forms. For example, the English present perfect is formed by combining the (i)-form of the auxiliary 'have' and the (iii)-form of the actual verb.

The same holds for German; each verb has (at least) three basic forms:

  • (i) Präsens (present)
  • (ii) Präteritum (simple past)
  • (iii) Partizip Perfekt (past participle)

The German Perfekt, for example, is formed by combining the (i)-form of either the auxiliary 'haben' or 'sein' and the (iii)-form of the actual verb.

For haben/have the three basic forms are:

haben: (i) habe/hast/hat/haben/habt/haben - (ii) hatte/hattest/hatte/hatten/hattet/hatten - (iii) gehabt

have: (i) have/has - (ii) had - (iii) had

The compound tenses for haben/have are:

  • Präsens/present - (i): er hat / he has
  • Perfekt/present perfect - (i)+(iii): er hat gehabt / he has had
  • Präteritum/simple past - (ii): er hatte / he had
  • Plusquamperfekt/past perfect - (ii)+(iii): er hatte gehabt / he had had
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The verb haben is a proper verb with haben as auxiliary verb for inflection.

Therefore verb inflection can of course lead to grammatical constructs in the perfect, past perfect and future II tenses where both, the verb, and it's auxiliary verb stand together. Unlike the English "had had" inflected forms never are identical because the past participle of haben is gehabt:

Wir haben gehabt.

As a side note this is different with werden (which has sein as auxiliary verb). In future tense this will lead to a doubling of werden in 3rd person plural: wir werden werden.

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