Had Died/Has Died/Was Dead? What’s the difference?

The difference between “had died,” “has died,” and “was dead” is the tense in which you use it. Depending on the time frame of the death or the announcement of the death, the tense of the word “died” will change. 

Figuring out which tense to use when you are talking about when someone died can be difficult, even if English is your first language. Keep reading to learn the difference between “had died,” “has died,” and “was dead.”

What Does “Had Died” Mean?

When you break down the phrase “had died,” the “had” in the phrase indicates that you are talking about the past in past perfect tense. ”Die” is a verb or action word and “had died” is the past perfect tense of “die.”

When you use the phrase, “had died,” you are usually talking about someone who died in the past.


  • Martin Luther King had died on a balcony for his belief that people of all races could live in harmony.

Notice that Martin Luther King died in the past and the speaker is speaking about the past in the past perfect tense.

What Does “Has Died” Mean?

Like “had died,” “has died” is a perfect tense phrase, but it is present perfect tense. You may hear someone use “has died” when they are making a formal announcement about someone’s death.


  • Betty White, beloved actress and animal lover, has died at age 99.

Notice that the speaker is still technically referring to something that happened in the past, but it is not the distant past and it is most likely something that is new news to the public.

It is also important to remember that the present perfect tense uses the past tense version of the verb it is paired with to indicate that something has recently happened.

What Does “Was Dead” Mean?

To say that something “was dead” generally means you are speaking about something in the simple past. “Was” is the past tense of “is” and “dead,” in this case, is an adjective, or a descriptive word.


  • The man was dead when he arrived at the hospital.

Note that this is a simple explanation of the man’s state of being when he arrived at the hospital.

Final Thoughts

“Had died,” “has died,” and “was dead” sound like they can be interchangeable in a sentence, but these are all different phrases with different meanings. Choosing the correct one to use depends on the context and timeframe you wish to convey.