116. Rarer Uses of HAVE


The word HAVE possesses some unexpected meanings and grammatical uses


The verb HAVE is very much “multi-use” (see 3. Multi-Use Words). Some of the uses are just different meanings that HAVE itself can have, while others are more grammatical, involving combination with other words or kinds of words to create particular meanings.

This post is not about the most familiar meaning of HAVE by itself, that of “possess” or “own”. For a special use of that, see 163. Ways of Naming Properties. Nor is there anything about the familiar grammatical uses with a “past participle” verb to form the present perfect and past perfect tenses, and with a to verb to express necessity (for something on these, see 171. Aspects of the Past Perfect Tense and 129. Differences between Necessity Verbs).

Instead, I wish to survey some less familiar uses of HAVE by itself and within larger grammatical constructions. The approach is similar to that with MAKE and GO in the Guinlist posts 141. Ways of Using MAKE and 176. Ways of Using GO.



In this usage, HAVE is a “transitive” verb, which means it has its own “object”, usually a following noun (see 8. Object-Dropping Errors). Some of the meanings of this kind of HAVE are as far removed from the basic “possession” one as are some meanings of the related noun ending –’s (see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings).

The following meanings seem particularly worth noting:


1. “To Experience or Suffer”

Sample Sentence:

(a) Careless drivers risk having an accident.

This meaning suggests that the subject has no control over the event in question – indeed sometimes the verb is like a passive one. A few combinations, however, can alternatively be used when the subject does have control – they are underlined in the list below. The event itself is often undesirable.

Using GET instead of HAVE is possible in a few indicated places – an unusual possibility because elsewhere it tends to suggest the subject is controlling the event. Using GET, however, is very informal and not recommended in professional writing (see 108. Formal & Informal Words).

Common objects of this use of HAVE include an encounter, an experiencea feeling (allows non-purposeful GET), funa good/bad/tough timean idea (allows GET), an opportunity (allows GET), pleasure, a surprise (allows GET), a visit(or)a (car) crash, a defeat, difficulty, a disappointment, a disaster, a fall, an illness (allows GET), a pain (allows GET), a problem (allows GET), suffering, sympathy (for sb), trouble (with sth).


2. “To be a Beneficiary of”

Sample Sentence:

(b) Successful athletes have assistance from a coach.

This is similar to (1), but does not imply a lack of control: the benefitting may well have been organised by the receiver. It mostly happens with the help of other people. Informal GET is usually possible as well. Common objects are:

assistance, a face-lift, a medical examination, a hair-cut, help, instruction, a lesson, a massage, a reward, success, surgery, treatment.


3. “To Participate In”

Sample Sentence:

(c) Some students could not attend because they had a lecture.

This meaning is associated with social events and implies some purposeful planning. Possible objects include:

an appointment, a class/lesson/lecture, a debate, an engagement, an exam, a match/game, a (formal) meeting, a (religious) service.


4. “To be Soon Starting”

Sample sentence:

(d) The Secretary left early because he had another commitment.

This meaning needs a future event as its object. All of the nouns listed in (3) can be used. Other possibilities are:

an assignment, a commitment, a flight, an itinerary, a project, a task.


5. “To Consume”

The object of HAVE here is mostly nouns of food and drink. Some varieties of English keep an older use of TAKE instead of HAVE:

a drink, a beer, a cake, a coffee, a cup of … , a glass of … , a meal, a sandwich, a snack, a tea, breakfast, lunch, tea, supper, something to eat.


6. “To Engage in or Perform” (Informal)

This meaning suggests deliberate choice. It involves noun objects that are spelt exactly the same as verbs and express everyday activities. Common ones are:

a go, a look, a nap, a rest, a say, a shower, a sleep, a talk, a think, a try, a vote, a walk.

Nouns like this are also found sometimes after a preposition, e.g. on the go, on the make, worth a try (see 164. Fixed Preposition Phrases).


7. “To Engage in or Perform” (Formal)

Sample sentence:

(e) Galileo had a disagreement with the Pope about planets.

This meaning involves “action” nouns of a more typical kind than those in the last section (for details see 14. Action Outcomes). Unfortunately, not all such nouns allow HAVE – GIVE and MAKE are especially common (see 173. Verb Choice before Action Nouns) – so that those that do must be memorised. Reasons for using an expression like had a disagreement instead of just a verb like disagreed are considered in 39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision”?.

Some action nouns after HAVE are followed by a typical preposition, making combinations like those in 123. Prepositional Verbs Containing a Noun. Common ones are an argument (with sb/about sth), a debate (about sth), a disagreement (with sb/about sth), a discussion (with sb/about sth), an effect/impact (on sb/sth – see 10. Words with Unexpected Grammar 1, #[c] and 81. Tricky Word Contrasts 2, #5), an encounter (with sb/sth), an influence (on sb/sth) and a meeting (with sb).

8. “To Carry” (Especially Mentally)

This category resembles (6) in that the object is usually derived from a verb. However, the whole phrase expresses a state rather than an action (see 66. Types of Passive Verb Meaning). It is different from (1) in that it involves either continuity or control. Possible objects include:

a feeling, an idea, an inkling (of), an intention, a memory, a message, a plan, a suggestion, a suspicion, a liking/taste (for), an understanding, a vision, a wish.


9. “To be Linked to”

This use, common in professional writing, names features of something that are not an intrinsic part of it, but are rather decided on by reasoned thought. Typical objects are:

characteristics, features, causes, reasons, consequences, similarities, differences, benefits, (dis)advantages, uses

Note that it sounds strange to say ?is caused by many reasons; English normally prefers has many reasons.



Combining HAVE with a “past” participle does not always make “perfect” tenses. Compare these:

(f) Einstein had published major works in 1905.

(g) Einstein had major works published in 1905.

In (f), had creates an ordinary past perfect tense of PUBLISH. It shows that Einstein himself did the publishing and that it happened at some point before another past moment that is the writer’s main focus (see 171. Aspects of the Past Perfect Tense).

In (g), however, had is not creating this tense, but is just HAVE in the past simple tense, making it the writer’s focus. Moreover, its meaning is “caused”, and published is part of its object and has passive instead of active meaning, indicating publishing by one or more people other than Einstein. The sentence thus says that Einstein, rather than doing the publishing himself, got other people to help him with it.

Sometimes, however, the involvement of other people is unintended. Consider this:

(h) Be careful not to have your money stolen.

Now, despite the structural similarity to (g), HAVE carries the meaning of “suffer” rather than “cause”. It is usually the context of use that is the clue to this meaning, or our knowledge of everyday life. We know, for example, that people do not generally try to arrange undesirable events like being robbed, so we conclude that the meaning here must be suffering rather than causing.

When HAVE is used with the suffering meaning like this it falls into the same category as verbs like SUFFER, RECEIVE and SEE which are further discussed in the Guinlist post 21. Active Verbs with Non-Active Meanings 1.

Using HAVE to mean “cause” or “suffer” does not always require a following verb to be a passive past participle. Instead, this other verb might be either an active infinitive (without to) or a participle with -ing. Infinitive forms are quite common after a verb meaning “cause” (see 10. Words with Unexpected Grammar 1, #[a]), but the absence of to is not (see 148. Infinitive Verbs without “to”). Here are examples with each meaning of HAVE:

(i) It is desirable to have (= “cause”) young children WORK in groups.

(j) Farmers can easily have (= “suffer”) pests EAT their crops.

If -ing is added to the above highlighted verbs, a difference of “aspect” is created: whereas the infinitive makes the action seem complete, -ing makes it ongoing. Other ways in which English shows aspect can be read about in the Guinlist posts 52. Participles Placed Just after their Noun,  103. Postponed Subjects in “It” Sentences and 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns.

Finally, HAVE can be combined with an object and a to infinitive to express a current or imminent task, as in have a job to do, have a problem to solve, have a train to catch and have a mountain to climb (= “be faced with a very difficult task”). Such expressions need to be distinguished from the more common combination of two verbs together without a separating object, which expresses necessity (e.g. have to sleep – see 129. Differences between Necessity Verbs). With an object, the meaning is more focussed on that than the to verb. There is a resemblance to the “be soon starting” meaning of HAVE by itself (#4 above); indeed a to verb could easily be added after the object of HAVE with this meaning.

Expressions like have a job to do also need to be distinguished from those where the to verb is necessitated by the noun after HAVE rather than HAVE itself, e.g. have a need to sleep (see 182. Structures with a Double Meaning 2, #5).



To assist memorization of the various uses described above, readers are invited to try the following exercise.

ExerciseFind a way of saying the same thing as each sentence below using HAVE. The part of a sentence to change is underlined. Answers are given below.

1. If workers are not following procedures, it is best to discuss this with them.

2. Instead of giving up, it is desirable to at least make an attempt.

3. Some team players were absent because they were attending a meeting.

4. Before submitting work, many writers will arrange for somebody else to proof-read it.

5. Competent engineers should be able to see an image of a completed project.

6. The new traffic lights were causing the traffic to flow more freely.

7. After their opponents scored a third goal, the team’s task was immense.

8. Young children find it very difficult to visualise imaginary situations.

9. Even the worst performers can improve if someone instructs them.

10. Banks worry that their cash will be stolen.



1 = have a discussion;  2 = have a go/try;  3 = they had a meeting;  4 = have somebody else proof-read it (NB no to);  5 = have a vision/idea;  6 = had the traffic flowing (better than flow);  7 = team had a mountain to climb/had an immense task (to achieve);  8 = have difficulty/a problem visualising (not to visualise: see 78. Infinitive versus Preposition after Nouns);  9 = they have instruction;  10 = they will have their cash stolen.


2 thoughts on “116. Rarer Uses of HAVE

  1. I don’t know if this falls under one of your categories, but there are many “have+NOUN” combinations where the verb “have” has little semantic meaning. The “have+NOUN” combination is viewed as a whole with a single meaning, much like phrasal verbs. In this context, “have” is known as a “light verb”, because it carries little meaning. Trying to assign a meaning to “have” in this context will give you many different meanings for the verb “have”, but it ignores the fact that this verb does not have a meaning when used as a light verb, and it is the NOUN in this case that clearly gives meaning to the verb. Other light verbs include “take”, “give”, and “do”
    For example
    “have a shower” or “take a shower” which means the same as “to shower”
    “have a nap” or “take a nap” which means the same as “to nap”
    “give a shit” is rather vulgar slang meaning “to care about”. In this particular case, the NOUN “shit” does not give much of a clue as to the meaning of the verb, but is only used as a swearword to sound angrier and ruder.

    • Thanks for going to the trouble to point this out. The nearest of my categories to what you describe is perhaps no. 5 in the first section (which I have slightly modified after reading your feedback). I leave it to others to judge whether or not HAVE has meaning in the examples you mention: what I have written is the meaning I see HAVE to possess, and I think a case can be made for expanded expressions like “have a nap” being slightly different semantically from a corresponding verb like NAP.

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