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I feel uncomfortable saying sentences like the following:

  • "I've a car" instead of "I have a car"
  • "They've a great time" instead of "They have a great time"
  • "He's a pen" instead of "He has a pen"
  • etc

I ask this because I read this sort of thing in a book.

Are they correct? And what is the rule? Can you use such forms in a formal setting?

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@Daniel edited, thanks (grammar nazi :p) –  serg Aug 5 '10 at 20:04
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@serg555: Would you expect anything less on a site for grammar enthusiasts!? –  Daniel LeCheminant Aug 5 '10 at 20:12
    
I think both of them are correct –  misho Sep 14 '10 at 12:22
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I've a car sounds British. –  Armstrongest Sep 14 '10 at 17:57
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He's a pen, sounds more like He is a pen. –  Joe D Sep 23 '10 at 15:49
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8 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

To an American ear, it sounds awkward, but in British English, this is not uncommon. Ironically, a Brit will probably tell you that the correct form is "I have got a small dog".

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So the speakers in America don't use "I have got a small dog" at all? –  MartyIX Aug 5 '10 at 20:23
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@Marty: Generally, no, I'd say. You're much more likely to hear either "I have a small dog" (which is what's regarded as "correct") or "I've got a small dog". –  Adam Robinson Aug 5 '10 at 20:26
    
@Adam Robinson: Thanks! –  MartyIX Aug 5 '10 at 22:10
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@configurator: It might actually be more of a written thing. Newspapers and such use it quite a bit. In speech, when you talk about what you have, you probably often use a bit of emphasis somewhere, so the contraction doesn't come into play very clearly. –  Peter Eisentraut Sep 29 '10 at 10:53
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Americans say I’ve got all the time. Here are some things Americans have got: a secret; your back; skills; the power. –  Jason Orendorff Oct 18 '11 at 22:04
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It is rarely appropriate to use contractions in a formal writing environment.

I've heard the first construction in speech, mainly British English, but not the second.

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As demonstrated in your second sentence! –  Alan Hogue Aug 5 '10 at 22:34
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Technically, there's nothing wrong with it, although Uncle Mikey is correct that it's rarely appropriate to use contractions in formal writing.

The only reason the second one seems strange is because most people would say "They're having a great time," I suppose because they're in the middle of having it. I have said, though, "I'd a great time..." I just happen to speak too quickly.:)

I also say "I've got..." rather than "I have." When I'm not speaking incorrectly, I generally just say "I've." So, it's not just a British thing.

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Any chance of an explanation. I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with my answer, and I'd like to. –  kitukwfyer Aug 5 '10 at 22:39
    
I didn't downvote, but my guess is that someone disagrees with your claim that "there's nothing wrong with it". –  nohat Aug 6 '10 at 4:27
    
That might just be it! Probably should have thought of that. –  kitukwfyer Aug 6 '10 at 7:18
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I think what you feel uncomfortable with is contraction of "have" as a main verb. When it's an auxiliary verb in, say, a perfect, contraction feels fine:

I've had a car before.

But contraction of main verb "have" meaning to own or possess feels weirder.

?And I've a car right now.

However, I have a feeling that people will contract main verb have in British English, but take that with a grain of salt. Americans faced with some kind of strange usage are far too willing to blame it on British English.

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You are correct this is a British English thing. Contraction of non-auxiliary have is possible in British English but not in American English. –  nohat Sep 14 '10 at 17:27
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@nohat: agreed - though only in some regions (as a former Londoner, I would never use "I've" in that context). You also see it in older literature. –  Steve Melnikoff Sep 14 '10 at 19:55
    
In my neck of the woods, a parent might well say I've a few things to say to you, young lady! to an to a recalcitrant teenage daughter. –  FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 18:01
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They are both strictly correct but both slightly inelegant. The second especially could be confused with "He is a pen"

Some people like to avoid contractions like that in formal writing, but most people probably won't mind (or even notice).

It's probably wise to favour the contraction if you want to emphasise another part of the sentence: "I've never been so insulted!"

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I'd go further and say that "He's a pen" is ALWAYS interpreted as "He IS a pen". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 14 '10 at 14:02
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I think "I've a car" is fine, but unusual on its own: as part of a longer sentence it's unexceptionable: "I've a car in the garage".

I suspect this is for prosodic reasons: "I've a car" has no word you can stress, other than "car", so people tend to change it to either "I have a car" or "I've got a car".

The other case is different: I can't think of any examples where I would expect to find "he's a pen", though I would rate it as perfectly grammatical.

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This is definitely an American English/British English thing, as you can't do it in American English but you can in British English.

In American English, you can't contract "have" if you are using it as a plain (not a "helping" or "auxiliary") verb. "I've a dog" and "They've a great time" are not grammatical in American English.

There are a number of other restrictions on contractions of "have" besides the one you cite. For example, you can't use contracted "have" followed by "not": "I've not been there" is not grammatical in American English even though "I've been there" is—if you want to contract, you have to say "I haven't been there".

I discussed this in a question about I’ven’t.

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"I've" seems fairly normal to me as British (or at least Scottish) English, and is completely unambiguous. I don't this "he's" would ever be understood as "he has" rather than "he is".

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protected by RegDwigнt May 22 '11 at 12:26

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