Are these questions grammatically correct?

  1. Have you no shame?
  2. Have you no money?
  3. Has he a friend?

or it is not allowed to use have and has (in this situation) to make a question?

  • It depends whether you are asking about use in literature, or use in the corner pub. I wish people would make clear which sort of register they want information about. It turns out that this sort of inversion occurs plenty in writing. – tchrist Jan 29 '13 at 0:52
  • 1
    @tchrist: Is there a different grammar for these questions in literature? Do these questions appear in literature as often as in the corner pub? I think your comment adds some unnecessary complications to the discussion. – user36655 Jan 29 '13 at 1:05
  • @tchrist I think it's easier to say "grammatical but informal", "strictly ungrammatical, but acceptable in some colloquial uses" etc. in an answer, than to have the questions try to preempt the matter. – Jon Hanna Jan 29 '13 at 1:46

They are perfectly grammatical. That is, they are too grammatical, using an inverted word order to form a question rather than a "do" form. They have become set phrases.

There is nothing wrong with the set phrases "Have you no shame?" and "Have you no money?" but "Has he a friend?" certainly sounds odd. Normally this set form is used with "no", and "Has he no friends?" would be fine.

In normal speech, "Don't you have any money?" and "Does he have any friends?" would be used.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Bah bah, black sheep, have you any wool? “Have you anything to say for yourself, young man?” – tchrist Jan 29 '13 at 0:44
  • "Have you any money" and "Has he any friends?" seem normal to me. I think the examples are a bit strange, but the general use on Has/have + subject to make a question is normal. – Jon Hanna Jan 29 '13 at 1:32

There are four things going on here.

The first is putting the verb before the subject to make a question. This is normal with English, but only with certain verbs. Be, do, have, and the modal verbs (can, could, should, shall, will, would, may, might, must, ought, dare, need, and the combinations "had better" and "used to" though their use in this way is rarer). (Ought itself is becoming rare and there was also mote which is definitely obsolete).


Can you manage?

Need I?

Does she really?

But not:

Hurt he it?

Read you that?

Defenstrated they him?

Indeed, we use those verbs - most often do, be and has but not necessarily - to form questions with the other verbs:

Did he hurt it?

Will you read that?

Have they defenstrated him?

So far, so normal. The second thing, is that in two of them a negative form is biasing the question in a particular direction. To concentrate on just one, "have you no money?" asks the same bare question as "have you any money?" - it's an inquiry to which an answer would inform us either that the addressee has money, or the the addressee does not have money.

However, the negative form would appear to be chosen over the affirmative form for a reason. The implication is that there is something remarkable in the idea that they might not have money. This colours the question very differently than the non-negative alternative.

The third, is that "has he a friend?" is simply a strange thing to ask. "Has he a friend in [some place]?" might be a bit more reasonable, or "has he a friend that [does something or has a particular skill or resource]?" More likely still would "Has he any friends?" since it is normal for people to have more than one. Indeed, having no friends would be unusual but not unheard of (migration, disaster, social difficulties, and a few other cases could leave one with no friends, or no friends one can regularly meet physically), but having one and only one is more remarkable than having none at all. Having several is the norm.

Finally, "have you no shame?" is already loaded as per the other negative example, and just in terms of its bare meaning seems to be accusing the addressee of something odious - something that only a person with no shame could do. The fourth thing happening here, is that "have you no shame?" is also a common idiom for exactly when we want to express the contempt we have for someone's behaviour.

All of which make these examples quite emotionally loaded, and therefore stand out. The first two we might use precisely because they stand out.

Assuming the first has no more neutral variety (why would you enquire as to whether someone had the capacity to feel shame?) we could make more neutral versions of the second two:

Have you any money?

Has he any friends?

And indeed, the general practice of putting a form of to have before a subject to form a question is very common, if we would express the equivalent indicative statement with it:

Have you got the time?

Has she enough to eat?

Have we really been here this long?

Has it finished yet?

All perfectly grammatical, and perfectly normal.

| improve this answer | |

Both are correct. Or each is correct. (Your chioice).

It is standard practice in English to reverse the most common word order (subject-verb-object), and place certain verbs before the subject to indicate a question. These are generally limited to the verbs is and have, and "helping" verbs, such as will and would. There are some exceptions, such as "Says who?"

In each of your examples, the verb is correctly conjugated to fit its subject (you have, he has).

| improve this answer | |
  • So, is it correct also to say "read you this book" instead of "did you read this book"? – user36655 Jan 28 '13 at 23:27
  • 3
    @VahidShirbisheh No; these are set phrases, fossils from an older English, employed for rhetorical effect. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 28 '13 at 23:35
  • 1
    No. See modified answer. – bib Jan 28 '13 at 23:40
  • 1
    I believe that most (educated) English speakers would understand “whither goest thou” –– but, obviously, it is archaic. – Scott Jan 29 '13 at 1:35
  • “Each are correct”? I’m pretty sure that each is invariably singular. Perhaps you meant both. – tchrist Jan 29 '13 at 3:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy