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I'm seriously pained when I hear the word "have" being used in the present continuous to imply possession.

Take for example, the following quotation from Wordsmith.org.

Read the Etymology of the word "fulsome", which has been described as "...-some (having a particular quality).

Grammar books have always suggested that this construction implies "eating, consuming, or experiencing"; never possession. So, if I said that I'm "having a friend", that would imply that I'm eating the friend, or having sex with her/him.

What do you folks think?

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4 Answers 4

There's a difference between the present continuous ("to be" + present participle in "-ing"), and other uses of the present participle.

So, in your example:

...-some (having a particular quality)

there is no "to be", so this is a use of the participle as an adjective, not a present continuous. It is equivalent to saying:

...-some (that have a particular quality)

You are correct that using the present continuous here

*that are having a particular quality

would be inappropriate.

Similarly, in your "friend" example, you are right that saying

I'm having a friend

that could have a number of meanings(!), but not that the person in question simply is your friend - but, on the other hand, saying

People having friends in America knew more about the issues surrounding the president.

is fine, and equivalent to

People that had friends in America knew more about the issues surrounding the president.

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Well, you could certainly use "having" to mean possession. Consider:

I got so used to having a car that I was unprepared for how arduous it was to walk to work every day.

or

Having 500 friends on FaceBook isn't as good as having two actual friends in real life.

or

What does having high cholesterol suggest about a person's dietary habits?

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In American English, I can say all of the following without being misunderstood by other native speakers:

  1. "I have two cats." (ownership)
  2. "She has several friends." (Not exactly ownership, but close)
  3. "I have a cold." (experience)
  4. "We have pizza on Friday nights." (consume)
  5. "He has a beard." (ownership)

Numbers 1 and 4 would never be mistaken by a native speaker to mean anything other than possession. Context, however, does make a difference. If I were to say, "I had several women last night" that would definitely imply sex.

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"I have two cats" isn't ownership. At least if you ask the cats (or any "owner" of a cat) ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 10 '11 at 23:27
    
@ SSAKL: While I'm still seeping in the comments of the others (and getting educated in the process), the issue is not with using "have/has" in any other tense apart from the present continuous (i.e. "-ing") –  Dhruv Raj Sharma Feb 11 '11 at 4:03
    
@jae - It is in my neck of the woods. American English, native speaker. The British (and various legal systems) probably make more of a distinction. –  ssakl Feb 11 '11 at 17:53
    
@Dhruv Rah Sharma - I see that now. I was attempting to give a general answer to a more specific question. Sorry about that. –  ssakl Feb 11 '11 at 17:56
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"Have" always doesn't mean "possession", but in many cases it does. For eg.:

"Have" as a transitive verb

  1. to hold in the hand or in control; own; possess: to have wealth
  2. to possess or contain as a part, characteristic, attribute, etc.: she has blue eyes; the week has seven days
  3. to be affected by or afflicted with: to have a cold
  4. to possess by way of experience; experience; undergo: have a good time
  5. to possess an understanding of; know: to have only a little Spanish
  6. to hold or keep in the mind: to have an idea
  7. to declare or state: so gossip has it
  8. to gain possession, control, or mastery of; I have been trained in Classical Music
  9. (a) to get, take, receive, or obtain: to have news of someone, have a look at it (b) to consume; eat or drink: have some tea

  10. to bear or beget (offspring)

  11. to perform; carry on; engage in: to have an argument
  12. to cause to: have them walk home
  13. to cause to be: have this done first
  14. to be in a certain relation to: to have brothers and sisters
  15. to feel and show: have pity on her
  16. to permit; tolerate: used in the negative: I won't have this nonsense

"Have" used in an informal way

  1. to hold at a disadvantage or to overcome: I had my opponent now
  2. to deceive; take in; cheat: they were had in that business deal
  3. to engage in sexual intercourse with

As a noun

  1. a person or nation with relatively much wealth or rich resources: the haves and have-nots.
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