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. The most familiar meaning of HAVE by itself is, of course, that of “possess” or “own”, while the most familiar grammatical use is probably the combination with a “past participle” verb to form the present perfect and past perfect tenses (see 52. Participles Placed Just After Their Noun).

In this post I wish to survey some of the less familiar uses that HAVE can have both alone and as part of a larger grammatical construction. The approach is similar to that with MAKE in the Guinlist post 141. Ways of Using MAKE.



In this usage, HAVE is a “transitive” verb, which means it has its own “object”, usually a following noun (see 8. Object-Dropping Errors).  Many of the particular nouns found after HAVE are so common there that the combination falls into the category of “collocation” (explained in the post 111. Words with Their Own Preposition). Some of the meanings of this use of HAVE are as far removed from that of “possession” as are some meanings of the related noun ending –’s (see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings).  The following non-possession meanings of HAVE are common:


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. 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 or Indulge in”

The object of HAVE here is something that people give to themselves (some European languages, indeed, would include an additional “-self”  word in some of the translations – see 143. Problems Using “-self” Words). The underlined words in the list below could also be used with TAKE. Some varieties of English even prefer TAKE more widely:

a drink, a meal, a napa night out, a resta sandwich, a snack, a showera walk.


6. “To Engage In or Perform”

Sample sentence:

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

This meaning, which suggests control, is expressed with HAVE and certain “action” nouns resembling verbs (see 14. Action Outcomes). It is often informal. Unfortunately, not all such nouns allow HAVE – GIVE and MAKE are especially common (see 141. Ways of Using MAKE) – so that those that do must be memorised. Possible reasons for this use of HAVE are considered in the post 39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision”?.

Some of the following common objects include a typical following preposition, which makes the whole combination resemble verbs in the post 123. Prepositional Verbs Containing a Noun:

an argument (with sb/about sth), a debate (about sth), a disagreement (with sb/about sth), a discussion (with sb/about sth), an effect (on sb/sth – see 81. Tricky Word Contrasts 2, #5), an encounter (with sb/sth), a go, a look, a meeting (with sb), a talk (with sb/about sth), a think (about sth), a try, a vote, a walk.

7. “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.



Placing HAVE directly before a “past” participle to make “perfect” tenses, or a to verb to express necessity are two commonly-described “grammatical” uses that I am not going to consider here (for something on the latter, see 129. Differences between Necessity Verbs).  Of more interest is a subtly different use with a past participle. Compare:

(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 the past moment that the writer is mainly talking about. In (g), however, had is not creating this tense, but is itself in the past simple tense, making the publishing the past event that is the writer’s main topic. Moreover, the meaning of had in (g) is “caused”, and published is passive instead of active in meaning, indicating that the publishing was done 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. If the meaning of this verb is active, the need will be for either an infinitive without to or a participle with -ing. The first of these is rare in English after the object of another verb (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. Sentences Starting with “it” and 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns.

Finally, HAVE can be combined with an object and a to infinitive to express an ongoing or imminent task, as in expressions like have a job to do, have a mother to look after, have a train to catch and have a mountain to climb (= “be faced with a very difficult task”). Again, these are not to be confused with the more common construction (expressing necessity) that has the two verbs together rather than separated by an object. The meaning is more focussed on the existence of the person or thing represented by the object noun. There is a similarity to the “be soon starting” meaning of HAVE by itself (#4 above) – an infinitive verb could easily be added after any of the nouns there.



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 of attending a meeting.

4. Before submitting work, many writers will ask 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;  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. Nouns that Don’t Go with a “to” Verb);  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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