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I recently used "I own some.email@gmail.com", and a friend said this was incorrect. I can see logically how this is true, you wouldn't use own in the context of an account identifier in any other circumstances (e.g. "I own 07700 123456"), but I can't think of a better word. Here's the full context:

I own some.email@gmail.com from a project waaaay back. I get interesting emails occasionally, where someone has decided to test their product with that email address, not realising it's real and that I'm checking it.

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I don't see why not. What did your friend suggest instead? –  Barrie England Jul 5 '12 at 9:39
    
'Have' was suggested, but it's more a case of 'own' being incorrect (and the sentence needing rewording) than something else being correct. –  fredley Jul 5 '12 at 9:40
    
It's certainly possible to own non-material things, if that's the problem. –  Barrie England Jul 5 '12 at 9:46
    
Thinking about it, the concept of ownership probably stems from the idea of an email address as an identity, something for which the word 'own' is appropriate. –  fredley Jul 5 '12 at 9:49
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A title is just a title, and not choosing to ignore the context and example given by the OP, just because it is convenient to do so, is being objective... –  Roaring Fish Jul 5 '12 at 13:29
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5 Answers 5

"Own" could be considered incorrect on the basis that you do not have ultimate control of a hosted email account. In the case of Gmail, Google could cancel the service or revoke the name without consulting you.

Having said that, the use of "own" is probably just a bit strong for the context it is being used.

Rather than:

I own some.email@gmail.com from a project waaaay back.

... you could still show possession but more in line with the tone of the conversation:

  • some.email@gmail.com is mine from a project waaaay back.

... or more relaxed still:

  • I still have some.email@gmail.com from a project waaaay back.
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Those are some good alternatives. –  fredley Jul 5 '12 at 10:53
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One of the meaning of own (as verb) is "have something as one's own," and I think it applies in this case: Email addresses are unique in the same domain; if you have xyzabc@gmail.com as email, nobody else can have the same email, even if they could have xyzabc@yahoo.com.

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Common parlance for web domains and email addresses is that you are sitting on it. This phrase has the added implication that you are not currently using it.

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After examining the word own in the dictionary, I'll discuss a dissenting opinion, and concede he has a point. When own is used as an adjective, it means something belongs to a certain individual, but when own is used as a verb, it means to possess.

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Sure, it's your email account; you alone use it, and you alone know the password. But technically, I think the account is owned by Google, not you. (If Google shut down gmail tomorrow, the account would vanish, and you wouldn't have any recourse). So, maybe it would have been more precise to refer to the account by saying "my own some.email account" (using own as an adjective) rather than saying "I own the some.email account" (using own as a verb).

In the end, this becomes a somewhat technical matter of ownership and possession in the virtual realm. You might own a domain name (because you're paying for it), but do you own a free account? Or does the host own it, and you merely use it?

All that said, it's a bit of a grey area, and some might argue that he's being overly picky and too rigid in his adherence to the strict dictionary definition.

In the end, I think I'd side with you and against your friend on this one. If to own means to possess, what does possess mean? NOAD says that possess means have as belonging to one. I would argue the account belongs to you, and therefore you own it.

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Even in the case of a domain or self hosted email system, it's technically owned by the service provider not the user. –  Noah Jul 5 '12 at 11:00
    
... and note that the individual with the email address is a user, not an owner. –  Roaring Fish Jul 5 '12 at 11:40
    
In German, there is a distinctive (legal) difference between "Eigentum" and "Besitz", the former with you as the sole+permanent owner, the second with you as the one that possesses/lives in it. In English, to own or to possess are most commonly used for something that you bought or received, but do not exclude things that you only have temporary control over. If something is your property, then you can be sure that you are the only owner. If you rent something, you own/possess it, but not permanently. Depending on a country's laws, you can have very extensive rights over what you rent. –  Translator1983 Jul 5 '12 at 13:02
    
The house is owned by the person who holds the deeds. The person who holds the deeds is almost invariably the person who paid the mortgage. The individual paying the rent is, by definition, not the owner. Own and possess, btw, are not synonymous. OED: Possess: To have possession of, as distinct from ownership (see possession n. 1b); esp. to hold or occupy as a tenant, to lease. –  Roaring Fish Jul 5 '12 at 13:39
    
Dictionary definitions: M-W own [a: to have or hold as property: possess; b: to have power or mastery over] possess [a: to have and hold as property: own]*; DCE possess [2 formal or law to have or own something]... –  Translator1983 Jul 5 '12 at 13:50
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While the address itself is public, the account and the password needed to use the address are yours.

If the e-mail account is yours, it "belongs" to you and you "own" it. The account is always identified by its address.

Yes, you own (the gmail account) some.email@gmail.com.

You can compare it to owning a house: The house number is yours as well. In a conversation, you will either say "I own the house in 5 Drury Lane" or "I own 5 Drury Lane", where "the house on" is implied.

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But I don't own it in that sense. I've agreed to some T&C's with Google to use it, but I don't own it any more than the house I live in (which I rent). –  fredley Jul 5 '12 at 10:12
    
@fredley Good news for you: You own your rented house, because it is yours as long as you live there, and the actual owner of the house has relinquished a part of his rights to the house to you temporarily! He can have you evicted (under certain circumstances), he can ask you to let him into the house, but if he enters it without your permission, he is breaking the law. While Google reserves extensive rights to your data and account, not all providers do. You can even host your website and e-mail account on your own computer if you rent (and thus own) a domain name! –  Translator1983 Jul 5 '12 at 12:46
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Maybe the law is different where you are, but in no way do I own my house! –  fredley Jul 5 '12 at 12:48
    
@fredley It's more a matter of language than law: The verbs "to own" and "to possess" only mean that you have something, not that you have the exclusive right to do with it as you please. For that, it would have to be your property. You "own" a car even if it is not fully paid yet and still officially belongs to the bank that gave you the loan. As a drug courier, you can be caught possessing (or in the possession of) drugs, even if they belong to the cartel. Simply put, if something is "your own", you own it as long as no one takes it from you, whether taking it is lawful or not. –  Translator1983 Jul 5 '12 at 13:11
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@fredley ~ I agree. You are either renting a house or you own a house, you cannot do both. At least not in any country I am aware of. The 'own=control' argument doesn't work. If you are renting you cannot sell the house, sub-let, extend, alter, instal new windows or central heating, fit a new kitchen or new windows, etc. You do not have control of the property, but the owner (the individual that owns it...) does. –  Roaring Fish Jul 5 '12 at 13:13
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