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Though it may sound a very primitive question to native English speakers, the use of ‘article’ is always the greatest headache to me because we don’t have this part of speech in our language system (I don’t think Chinese language has it either).

I’ve vaguely learned the rules of articles in English grammar books, but am not really familiar with it.

So when I found the following sentence in the New York Times’ article (December 21), titled, “Looking for a Place to Die,” I was puzzled whether I can say “I have a wife/ She has a husband,” or "I have wife / She has husband."

The patient was a fairly young woman and she’d had cancer for as long as her youngest child had been alive. She had another child, too, a few years older, and a husband whose drawn eyes and tense frame bore the strain of trying to keep it all together. Extended family lived far away and couldn’t be brought closer. The husband and kids lived more than an hour’s drive from the hospital.

When I come across the phrase “She had another child and a husband, I felt like she had one of several husbands she had. Theoretically, you can’t have multiple husbands (or wives) at a time.

When you simply say “I have (she has) husband,” what article should I use, a, the, or non-article?

Follow-up question:

Which is correct, “I have a husband who keeps saying ‘I love you.’ to me," and “I have the husband who keeps saying ‘I love you.’ to me.”?

I’m asking this, because I still remember that I was told at English class of high school more than 60 years ago that the definite article should be used for antecedent (husband in this case) whenever followed by modifier (that) clause.

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One possible area of confusion is that to have a child can mean either give birth to, as an isolated event, or be the mother of as an ongoing situation. That doesn't happen with husband, where the isolated event of marrying the man is take a husband, and have a husband only refers to the ongoing situation. –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '11 at 22:36
    
...most likely the poor woman only ever married once. In this case she obviously contracted cancer about the time her younger son was born. The excerpt doesn't use had a child in the sense of bore a child, for the older one. –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '11 at 22:42
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The problem with the husband is that implies that there is only one husband to be had. (This is different from implying that each person may only have one at a time -- add up all those individuals, and there are innumerable husbands.) –  onomatomaniak Dec 24 '11 at 11:03
    
Hey, be glad these articles only have to do with uniqueness! In many other languages, you also have to contend with the gender of whatever follows! (And everything has a gender, not just people and animals.) –  John Y Dec 24 '11 at 15:19
    
@onomatomaniak: I don't see a problem with "the husband" in OP's excerpt - he was identified as "a husband" earlier in the passage, but by the time "the" gets used, we know we're talking about the specific man married to the patient. –  FumbleFingers Dec 24 '11 at 15:55
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6 Answers

She has the husband is not correct, as it implies that having a husband is exclusive— that in the current context, only one person can have a husband at the same time, and she is that person. If she has "the" husband, her friend in the same room cannot.

I venture to say this is true whenever "has" meaning "is in possession of" is coupled with the definitely article ("the"); for example, the expression "Smith has the floor" or "Smith has the mic[rophone]" means Smith currently holds the exclusive right to speak at an assembly. Scope and context is important here. If someone asks me why I can't drive somewhere and I explain that "my wife has the car," of course it doesn't mean there is only one car in the world. It means that there is only one car currently at my disposal, and my wife has it.

She has a husband is correct. It is true that one could infer multiple husbands, either in series (i.e. she is divorced or widowed) or in parallel (i.e. she is a polyandrist). In this case, "she had … a husband" but he may not be the same as her current husband. That we do not make such inferences is, I think cultural. English is a Western language, and the tradition in the West is marriage to only one person for life.

"She has husband" is not correct; any singular object of "has" requires an article. The article is omitted for plurals ("she has cars") or conditions or other abstract nouns which lack number ("she has access," "she has courage," "she has pneumonia").

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+1 because all that you say is true. But per my comment to the question, I still think OP is being slightly thrown off because he associates have a husband with have a child, and he understands the latter in the give birth sense rather than be in possession which is what it means here. –  FumbleFingers Dec 22 '11 at 23:43
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“She has a husband” is correct. I think perhaps your confusion arises from the subtle difference between one and a(n). “She has one husband” is indeed unusual, because it calls attention to the fact that she has precisely one husband, as though she could have more. However, saying “She has a husband” just indicates that, of all the husbands in the world, she happens to be married to one.

In general, the is used to refer to something specific and known, while a(n) typically introduces something indefinite or new, similar to が in Japanese.

She has a new husband. ← Introducing new information (a husband)
The guy is really tall! ← Referring to known information (the guy)

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Say you ate an apple.

You cannot say "I ate apple", because its grammatically incorrect. You must say "I ate an apple".

Take these examples too:

  • "I have a brain"
  • "I have a nose"
  • "I have a mouth"

You can't say "I have brain", "I have nose", "I have mouth" even if it is almost certain that you only have ONE brain, ONE nose and ONE mouth.

I think the usage of "a" here is simply for the sake of completing the sentence, so it is grammatically correct.

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Logically speaking, “I have a wife” seems uncomfortable to me, because it presupposes that I can have multiple number of wives at a time. But answers I received from you, I now understand that (1) “any singular object (common noun) of have requires ‘an’ article,” and (2) ‘have + a / an object’ rule precedes as-a-matter-of-course perception that we have only one brain, nose, mouth, heart, husband, wife, father, mother, and emperor, of which soleness is self-explanatory. –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 23 '11 at 5:29
    
and what about the plural of those terms ? do you say "i have brains" (well, let's imagine we could have multiple brains) or is there an article fitting in the place of the article "a" ? –  Adrien Plisson Dec 23 '11 at 12:26
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@AdrienPlisson: "I have fingers", "I have toes". No article is used here, because English's indefinite articles are singular. "Some" can play the role of a plural indefinite article, but "I have some toes" suggests a collection of severed body parts rather than one's normal anatomy. –  Nate Eldredge Dec 23 '11 at 16:02
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Note that this applies to countable nouns. You ate an apple, but later you ate cake. (You only ate a cake if you had the whole thing.) –  Monica Cellio Dec 23 '11 at 16:24
    
@Monica Cellio. With your comment, I came to realize a simple and overt rule: Husband (Wife) is a countable noun (which we don't have distinction in our language), therefore it requires “a” at the first mention, irrelevant to legitimacy issue of single or multiple husband(s). –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 23 '11 at 22:57
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For the purpose you describe:
I have a husband. --correct
I have husband. --incorrect
I have the husband. --incorrect

One could make up scenarios for the other two where they would be correct, but they would be quite unusual situations.

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I cannot imagine a context where nonarticle would be correct. –  Mitch Dec 22 '11 at 23:44
    
I can easily imagine a wife saying "I have THE husband", but everyone knows she is declaring that HER husband is THE BEST, rather than THE ONLY ONE in the world! I just thought I'd throw that in. –  Arlen Beiler Jan 1 '12 at 20:41
    
Playing Scrabble: "I have 'husband' on a triple word score...that's 30 points". However, I can't think of a useful context. –  Xantix Jan 23 '13 at 5:26
    
'Wife, have you put out the cat?' 'I have, husband.' (They were just married last week, and are still having fun calling each other 'wife' and 'husband'.) –  GEdgar Jan 23 '13 at 15:08
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Another child and a husband is both usual and correct. * Another child and husband would run into the problem that seems to worry you, implying that she had more than one husband.

In general, you need an article to indicate that the two things are separate: I have a house and garden, since ?a house and a garden would generally be taken to mean they are in different places. ?I have a dog and cat is not uncommon, (perhaps they are close friends), but might mean they are literally inseparable (Dr Frankenstein's pet?)

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I think this kind of hendiadys can be a problem for non-English speakers, but I don't see how it can be relevant here, where the is both a comma and a qualifying phrase between the two terms, so the "another" cannot take the "husband" into its scope. –  Colin Fine Dec 23 '11 at 11:02
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In English, for no truly persuasive reason of history or logic, singular count (as opposed to mass) nouns require an article, either definite (the) or indefinite (a[n]). Thus, I will say I have a cookie but that I have (some) pasta, or I bought a car but that I love rice.

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