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I know the idiom have the final say, but I wonder if we could use the same idiom without the word final in it? For example:

He is the boss, he is the one who has the say on it.

Could the above sentence pass muster with native speakers? Trawling through some google pages revealed a number of results, where the above expression was used with somewhat the same meaning.

Up to now, the government has the say on management issues and the general lines of the commercial strategy are negotiated in four year contractual plans.--Corporate Reorganisation in the European Transport and Logistic Sector

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I think "has the say" does not make sense without "final" in the context you have proposed. – user19148 Jul 30 '12 at 11:45
"Has the say" does not work - "has a say" does, but does not convey the same as "has the final say". Why would you want to remove the 'final' anyway? :) – asymptotically Jul 30 '12 at 11:47
Have a say in – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 11:49
@asymptotically- Does it mean that most authors on Google Books have used it incorrectly? – Noah Jul 30 '12 at 11:52
A ngram with some varieties for what you -imho- actually try to express – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 11:53
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Google Books initially claims about 12,800 results for "they have the say" - but if you follow that link and try to access the next page of results, GB admits there are actually only 31 (and less than a couple of dozen separate instances are relevant to OP's usage).

By contrast, "they have a say" initially claims 75,000 hits, which I expect are mostly both relevant and "real" (in fact, after I paged through some results, GB revised its estimate to 203,000 hits).

GB's algorithm for estimating results almost certainly pushed up the value for the first search term because it shares everything except the apparently trivial the/a switch with the second search term.

For completeness, "they have the final say" tops out at 82 hits (initial guestimate: 42,000).

So even though there's no grammatical argument against having the say, idiomatically it's clear that's a "non-standard" version.

In terms of a difference in meaning, if someone has "a say" in some decision-making process, it just means they're entitled to present their position in a discussion (they can say what they think). The implication of using the indefinite article is that other positions are also to be considered.

If someone has "the [final] say", it means they are the final authority. Whether or not they contribute to the debate itself, they will say what the final decision is (as, for example, a judge). The implication of the definite article is that there's only one participant who has this authority.

I think the two different senses for this noun usage of a/the say are nicely matched by...

"You will have your say later" (first meaning; [chance to] speak)

"It will only happen on your say so" (second meaning; declare/command, as final authority)

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Please, this one isn't even close:


noun [ in sing. ]
an opportunity for stating one's opinion or feelings: the voters are entitled to have their say on the treaty.
• an opportunity to influence developments and policy: the assessor will have a say in how the money is spent | the households concerned would still have some say in what happened.


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I guess that's quite different to the connotation that should be expressed in OP's example. – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 12:01
@Em1: How is this different from what is being asked? "[...] the voters are entitled to have their say on the treaty." – Gigili Jul 30 '12 at 12:21
The OP asks: "I know the idiom have the final say, but I wonder if we could use the same idiom without the word final in it?" My answer confirms that this is possible. – Robusto Jul 30 '12 at 12:46
@Em1: Robusto gave the definition of the word "say" that is being used in those phrases from the OP's question. It is a noun and it works like any other noun. Thus you can have a say, you can have the say, you can have the final say, or you can have no say, depending on the circumstances. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jul 30 '12 at 13:06
@Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 Almost as I said one hour ago, but I insist on the significant distinction between giving an opinion and being the decision-maker. – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 13:44

I see a significant difference between the saying to have the final say on and to have the say on. And it might be confusing if we also include the phrasing to have a say in. All three phrasing are somehow related and do have overlapping intersections, but their connotation is considerable different to each others.

I don't want to discuss their meanings here, however, the phrasing to have the say does indeed exists, even though rarely used.

This ngram shows that have the say is used fewest of all. COCA lists only seven examples for have the say, four of them in written news and two spoken. (I'm sorry but I don't know how to offer a direct link to that source.)

Thus, you can use this phrasing but maybe you should prefer one of the following idioms. A comparison on ngram shows again, that have the say is not commonly used.

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If anyone's say is that the discussion of the difference between these three phrasings is important should raise their hands now or shut up completely. I've a quite good example expressing the differences between the sayings but I currently consider this as off-topic. – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 13:15
You probably should search for have/had/has/having + the/a/any/some/no + say. This is not special. – tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 13:16
@tchrist I'm pretty sure the relative frequency is very similar, but if you have the time to compare 42 different possibilities, fine, do it. You might offer your results in an answer as well :) – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 13:21
And I picked the most frequent version of a rarely used phrasing. And a, any, some and no are not important to my answer since I'm answering on have the say not on have a say or anything else, which again is something completely different thing. – Em1 Jul 30 '12 at 13:24
Your numbers are off. There are only 20 possibilities, not 42: havethesay haveasay haveanysay havesomesay havenosay hadthesay hadasay hadanysay hadsomesay hadnosay hasthesay hasasay hasanysay hassomesay hasnosay havingthesay havingasay havinganysay havingsomesay havingnosay – tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 14:21

To have the final say on a matter means, after all the debate has taken place, after all the alternatives have been analyzed, after all the pros and cons and risks have been evaluated, those with the final say (or the last say) in the matter get to make the decision on which course of action to take.

After us kids all debated about where to go for the family vacation that summer, our parents finally told us we were heading to Niagra Falls. After all, they had the final say in the matter.

To have a say in a matter means you are a stakeholder; someone may solicit your ideas, ask you to make a nomination, allow you to voice an opinion or raise a concern, and maybe even cast a vote. But, in the end, you may disagree with the final decision, because you don't have the final say in the matter.

You can mention people who have "a say in the matter", but that's not the same as "the final say in the matter," not unless those persons (or governing bodies) are in a position to make the ultimate and binding decision.

So, when we change the article from a to the, how is that interpreted? From the smattering of uses I found on Google books, I'd say that the sense of final say is implied:

  • The general has the say over which troops will be sent.
  • ...the department still has the say so over who actually gets hired.
  • Taking the example of coffee, it is the farmer who has the say.
  • Wherever the flag of Sarawak flies, the government of Sarawak has the say. You are in the wrong and you don't have a leg to stand on.

So, apparently, yes, you can use "have the say", and yes, it essentially means the same thing as "have the final say" – but that's just my say in the matter.

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I have never heard anyone say, "X has the say" meaning the same as "X has the final say", i.e. the ultimate decision-making authority. To the best of my knowledge, that is simply not the idiom.

We do say, "X has a say", meaning "has influence on the decision".

That is, the idiom calls for the article "a" when referring to someone who has influene, not "the". It calls for inclusion of the word "final" when referring to someone who has the ultimate authority.

Sometimes people use other words in place of an article in the "influence" case, like "some say" or "his say", etc.

It's the nature of idioms that they often have a very strict form. You can't replace words, even if those words are the appropriate part of speech. Think of almost any idiom and try to swap out words. Like, "something came up", meaning an unexpected event took place that interfered with previous plans. If I try to change that to, say, "something rose up" or "something came down", I've completely lost the meaning of the idiom.

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