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"Have you..." in US English

For speakers of American English, does the following sentence structure seem odd to you?

"Have you a pen?"

Does your dialect require the use of 'got' here or is it understandable as is? The reason I ask is that duolingo never seems to accept what I would consider the most basic way of asking the question but now I'm wondering if it's not a normal usage in the US.

Same question for speakers of English in other countries.

July 18, 2014



As an English speaker in England I would say: "Have you got a pen?" or "Do you have a pen?".


I think it's somewhat archaic as it's now more common to say "do you have" or "have you got". "Have you" is more something I'd expect in a Jane Austen novel.


I always find these things fascinating. So at some point in time, British speakers said "have you" and then it suddenly/gradually became archaic and, eventually, wrong. And those of us who continue to use it are condemned to being wrong... anyway, always good to learn something!


I don't think it's wrong, just something that most people wouldn't say these days. It is indeed interesting as English is one of the rare languages that use "do" in questions and negatives. "Have you a pen" makes perfect sense in other Germanic languages like German and Dutch.


That's most likely the result of the language becoming more structured and consistent. Certainly, no English speaker would ask "Write they children books?" these days, however, with "have" instead of "write" it is still possible for some. The decreasing usage is probably the sign that gradually English tries to even that out and use just one type of construction for all verbs that are not "to be" and not modal (can, must...).


When you say "Have you a pen?", you are using "have" as an auxiliary without using a verb, and I don't really feel that would make sense. If you want to use "have" as an auxiliary, you should say "Have you got a pen?", if you want to use "have" as a verb you should say "Do you have a pen?" (in this case the auxiliary for the interrogative form is "do", as with whatever other regular verb).

Anyway, I am not a native English speaker, so I could be wrong, but at least here in the US where I live I don't feel I have ever heard things like "Have you a pen?".


Indeed I think your explanation is correct


I also agree with you. I am not a native english speaker either, but I believe your explanation is correct. It does not seem right to me to use "have" without "got" or "do".


That question had me thinking, too. A Russian native speaker here. Usually in the English for Russian speakers course we just advise people against forming sentences like "I have not a car" or "Have you sisters?" because the primary use of this construction is for archaic effect. However, in reality it is not that easy. From 17-18 century on, Modern English uses do-support in Present and Past Simple tenses almost ubiquitously: She swims → She does not swim/Does she swim? (and not "She swims not" or "Swims she?")

Still, with "have" the situation is slightly different. There are indeed two variants possible. As R. A. Close writes in "A Reference Grammar for Students of English" when have is used to really mean possession rather than something else ("to have a bath", "to have soup for dinner") you can indeed use the verb without do-support:

  • Have you any money on you? / Do you have any money?
  • I have some money and so has George
  • Do you have any money? Does John?
  • I asked John for some money but he hadn't any. → "didn't have" is now the preferred form

The author states that, generally speaking, the examples where "have" acts on its own would be more typical of British English rather than American. By the way, the book is 40 years old. Also, I know that such use can be found in some colloquial expresssions like "I haven't a clue".

Finally, some sourсes say that "Have you..?" and "..have not" are sometimes used in the formal register of British English (though, never OK in AmE).

It would be great to see what native English speakers think, on average.


As a British English speaker I would say "Have you got a pen?" or "Do you have a pen?" but I've never heard (not from American English speakers either, but that doesn't mean they don't say it like that) and wouldn't say "Have you a pen?"


"Have you a pen" is Queens English and acceptable but is a very posh way of asking for a pen that is not in common usage.


Native American English speaker here. This is a very interesting discussion. I agree with all that the construction "Have you a pen?" sounds archaic and would not be used in standard speech, at least nowadays. It sounds upscale British to me, but the Brits are saying it doesn't work for them either.

I think the confusion probably arises because "have" means two distinct things. It is either an auxiliary verb that requires another verb (I have come late. / Have I come late?) or it means to possess or own. (I have your pen. / Do I have your pen?)

The sample sentence that sounds incorrect (Have you a pen?) tries to blend these two meanings, and I think that's why it sounds almost, but not quite, right.

If you substitute another word for have, like own or possess that construction would clearly sound wrong. Own you a pen? just doesn't work as a question. It would be Do you own a pen?

Likewise, if you want to use have as an auxiliary, then another verb is required. Got might be something of an idiomatic choice, because I am having a hard time thinking of a substitute that sounds correct.


Have you a pen? is perfectly correct and understandable.
However - like others have said- it is old-fashioned and very posh. It is just not used in conversation these days.

I wouldn't say Have you got a pen? because I don't like the way it sounds, even though it is correct also.
I would simply say Do you have a pen?.

(AmE speaker here). :-)


By the way, do you use such constructions in set expressions (like "I haven't a slightest clue" that I mentioned)? How do "I haven't X", "I have not X", "Have you X?" sound in some specific phrases? Or it that in AmE it is a universally unpopular construction in both general sentences and set phrases?


It would be I haven't a clue or I haven't the slightest clue.
But, we could also say I haven't got a clue and I haven't got the slightest clue.
Any of those ways are fine/popular in everyday conversation.

I can't think of any other constructions at the moment, but I'll try to think of other examples.


Thanks :). "Haven't got" is not that interesting because it is at least grammatically consistent with the rest of the language (have heard → have not heard, have got → have not got), although used mostly in BrE. Of course, it IS interesting that "has got" actually means "has" rather than "has acquired" or "has received", as one might think (judging by the literal meaning of the words).

However, at least for a non-native, "I haven't the slightest clue" does not match with how other verbs work:

  • That makes sense → That does not make sense.
  • I have a bath each morning → I do not have a bath each morning.
  • I like the panache → I do not like the panache.


American English speaker here. Basically what everyone else has said. I would only say "Have you a pen?" if I was trying to sound old-timey formal. But as I was reading the comments I realized that if I was asking someone if they had a pen while yes the correct sentence is "Do you have a pen?" I would probably drop the do and say "You have a pen?".


To sound even more American, you could just say, "Got a pen?". I'm from near Philadelphia.


For some reason all these sentences with got in them just sound weird in my head haha. Makes me think "Got milk?". now I'm staring at the word got and it doesn't even look like English. I think I am going crazy haha


I could be wrong, but the use of got or "to get" in English is such a useful word that when learning another language, it becomes hard to think of the correct equivalent.


Well, I have certainly heard the phrase before and I am a native English Speaker (from England). I am not sure if it is dialectic or 'standard' English, although I am sure I gave seen it in some of Shakespeare's plays è.g. Have thee a .... Although I may have trouble finding the example.


E.g. Shylock: "Hath not a Jew eyes?"

Originally, English didn't use an auxiliary do in questions and negations at all. This applied to all verbs, however, not just to "to have". Ex. "[K]nowest thou not the Duke hath banished me, his daughter?" (As You Like It).

From what I remember, this was slowly changing in Shakespeare's time and he himself already used both forms. In fact, in the same passage I quoted from above, Shylock also says : "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" (and not: "If you prick us, bleed we not?").


Thank you Katherle, I knew they existed. You certainly seem to know the works of the Bard, well done.


That's really surprising! Maybe it's a Hiberno-Irish thing then, but I can't belive it's taken me this long to realise it :) does "Have you any brothers and sisters?" or "have you any wool?" also sound strange to you?


It's typical of Hiberno-English, apparently:

"Have as a main verb is in conservative IrE often used on its own without got, and in interrogative or negative contexts, without the do-auxiliary, as in the following example from the NITCS where not even the interviewer's use of do-support prompts the informant to use the same pattern:

  • What kind of farms do they have, mostly?

  • They haven't all that much. They just have cows, and..."



As an Australian: I wouldn't naturally ever say any of those things, and I only know "have you any wool?" from the nursery rhyme..


Yes, both of those sound strange to me. You may hear questions phrased in that way in parts of the UK, due to local dialects, but it wouldn't be considered standard English.


I'm English and 'Have you a pen' is fine. Absolutely fine. Probably how it would most normally be said in Spoken English, even though not grammatically correct! Other posters give the correct grammatical forms - 'Do you have a pen?' or 'Have you got a pen?' - Yet both miss the point!. The answer to both could be 'Yes I have.'

But surely the question means 'Do you have a pen, I could borrow' - and for this 'Have you a pen?' is more understandable than the strict grammatically-put phrases. ;)


this has gone to my head now! I lost four hearts today already with teh same thing even though I'm trying to remember to write it the other way. And then I go and lose a heart for the exact same thing in Dutch, using 'Hebt u' when Duolingo wants 'heeft u' :D


Now I am really not sure if maybe we should use it in the course of Russian for English speakers O_O


To me, that's bad grammar. If we were talking about pens before and someone asked that (with the 'got') in the conversation, it would make sense. If someone just asked that (without the 'got') if they needed a pen or something, I would think it's bad grammar. I would say "Do you have a pen?"


While 'do you have' is perfectly fine to me, using 'got' where there's no getting involved, e.g. 'I have got brown eyes' / 'Have you got a middle name' is just not right. When the verb you want to use is 'have' to denote possession rather than the fact of having obtained something, it makes no sense to me to use 'get' instead.


The past tense of "to get" and present tense of "to have" are related in meaning (i.e. once you get something, you have it). Therefore, the spoken use of these words is practically interchangeable among some speakers, and I don't think it is purely an American phenomenon.

While "Have you got a pen?" does not have the same literal meaning (in standard written English) as "Have you a pen?", that is how many native speakers would be more likely to phrase the question.

I am a native speaker, but the regional dialect I learned as a child is a bit unusual. With that in mind:

"Have you a pen?" sounds like a natural construction to me, although of lower frequency than "Do you have a pen?". I assume (but could be wrong) that most native speakers know the children's rhyme that begins with the line: "Baa, baa, Black Sheep, have you any wool?". I also often hear "have you" in complex constructions like "Have you the slightest idea?".

"Have you got a pen?" sounds a bit strange to me because I learned to speak with the grammatical pattern of get-got-gotten rather than get got-got. That, though, IS definitely a dialect pattern and is not, to my knowledge, accepted as standard written English. Nonetheless, while I would possibly say the sentence "Have you gotten a pen?", it wouldn't mean (to my ears) just "Have you a pen?" but something along the lines of "Have you acquired a pen as I previously asked you to do?".

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