If "to be" is the copula, is there any special name for "to have"?

  • Do you mean to have an object or to possess a quality? For example, "I have a laptop" versus "I have a cold" ?
    – rajah9
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:04
  • Does it make a difference? They seem to be grammatically the same to me. The case I had in mind is actually different (in terms of the physics involved) from both, but seems to me to be grammatically identical to both: User has access to such-and-such a system. Access is neither a physical object nor a property of the subject, but rather a property of the relationship between the person and the system, and any physical reflection of the access is stored in the system.
    – iconoclast
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:12
  • Yes, linguistically there is a big difference between having an object or having a quality or (in your comment) having a relationship. Having a quality or relationship is a state of being rather than a statement of possession. Consider "I'm hungry." In French, this uses the verb "to have," as in "J'ai faim" (= I have hunger). In Chinese, there is no linking verb. It's simply "wo3 e4 le" (= I hungry).
    – rajah9
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:29
  • 1
    @rajah: I don't think you'll ever see it stated that have is a linking verb in English, even though 'he was nauseous' is (arguably) an allowable if somewhat ambiguous paraphrase for 'he had nausea'. Perceptions as to where exactly 'having the qualities...' grades into 'being in nature ...' are not crystal clear, and this is reflected in the transitive verb of possession - link verb duality. Oct 21, 2013 at 23:08
  • @iconoclast It does makes a difference which have you're talking about. The senses of have are not grammatically identical. Huddleston and Pullum break have down into three categories: dynamic have (as in "to have a fit"), which is always a lexical verb; perfect have (as in "have been napping"), which is always an auxiliary verb; and static have (expressing obligation as in "I have to go now" or possession as in "I have enough money"), which is lexical for most speakers but auxiliary for some (particularly older BrE speakers).
    – user28567
    Oct 24, 2013 at 19:24

2 Answers 2


The term copula is used in more or less strictly defined ways:

In English, the verb be is sometimes referred to as "the copula," but other verbs (identified in Observations, below) have a copular function as well.


copula ... 1. (Linguistics / Grammar) a verb, such as be, seem, or taste, that is used merely to identify or link the subject with the complement of a sentence. Copulas may serve to link nouns (or pronouns), as in he became king, nouns (or pronouns) and adjectival complements, as in sugar tastes sweet, or nouns (or pronouns) and adverbial complements, as in John is in jail

[Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003]

cop·u·la a connecting word, in particular a form of the verb be connecting a subject and complement.

The last, loosest 'definition' certainly allows verbs like blush in 'the rose blushed pink' (which has semantic weight and which I'd call a 'link-like verb') - and possibly coordinators and prepositions. I don't recommend it. The other two usages are accepted (and partly contradictory).

Other incarnations of 'be' are as main verb (I am) and auxiliary (I am writing). 'Have' has incarnations as a main verb (I have enough money for a pint) when it is sometimes delexical (I'm going to have a bath) and an auxiliary (I have cut myself). But then so does 'do'. (Sundays, I do for Mr Jones / she did a jig on the table / I did go).

  • Are you implying that "have" is also a copula? And therefore that there is some problem with people referring to "to be" as the copula?
    – iconoclast
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:20
  • 1
    It depends. If there is any "copula" in English (a debatable proposition), then it's be. Perceptual predicates like seem, appear, feel, taste, etc. can appear in structures that look like the same thing, but have different properties. These verbs are only considered "copulas" in older textbooks which follow the Latin pattern (copula is a Latin word and a Latin grammatical term). Oct 21, 2013 at 17:57
  • 1
    @iconoclast: (1) I'm certainly not, and don't see where I've even hinted at that possibility (2) 'Copula' is an ill-defined term; John Lawler's comment here points to a deeper treatment going beyond argument about usage of terms and identifying different but similar-looking structures, which would seem preferable by far. Oct 21, 2013 at 19:04

Have is one of the three English primary auxiliary verbs. The other two are do and be. When used in constructions with other verbs, they show how the main verb is to be understood.

  • I'm not sure what this has to do with my question.
    – iconoclast
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:21
  • Then I don't understand what your question is. Oct 21, 2013 at 15:34
  • 1
    @BarrieEngland: I think there is some presupposition that "copula" is a special name for be instead of a syntactic description, with the implication that there may be special names for other auxiliary verbs as well. Not unreasonable. But of course there aren't any English verbs like be that are totally auxiliary; it deserves a special name if any verb does. Oct 21, 2013 at 17:50
  • 1
    @JohnLawler: thanks for your comments, and yes I was presupposing that. It was Matt Alexander who taught me that in (IIRC) Syntax 301 on 2nd or 3rd Frieze. But I'm always open to correction: is that not really entirely correct?
    – iconoclast
    Oct 25, 2013 at 18:31
  • 1
    Well, Matt was not always reliable on formal terminology that didn't impinge on his specialty, as I recall :-). Oct 25, 2013 at 18:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.