What is the difference between "Does she have the book?" and "Has she the book?"

  • 1
    Are you looking for an explanation of differences in syntactical structure, meaning, connotation, or something else? Could you please clarify? – MunchyWilly Feb 23 '14 at 7:19
  • The stative HAVE can behave as either a lexical verb or, in some dialects, an auxiliary (CGEL, page 112). And so, "Does she have the book?" is fully acceptable standard English, while % "Has she the book?" is grammatical only in some dialects. – F.E. Feb 23 '14 at 8:32

In U.S. English, the difference is that "Does she have the book?" is normal, whereas *"Has she the book?" is not.

I can't speak with confidence about U.K. English, but I believe that in U.K. English, both forms are correct, and with no difference in meaning, but with "Has she the book?" being more formal and "Does she have the book?" being more informal.

  • 1
    +1 for seeing there's a difference. The stative HAVE can behave as either a lexical verb or, in some dialects, an auxiliary. E.g. "Do I have enough tea?" is fully acceptable standard English, while % "Have I enough tea?" is grammatical only in some dialects. (CGEL, page 112) – F.E. Feb 23 '14 at 8:26
  • Definitely correct regarding American English. I liked the descriptor not normal. It is definitely acceptable, but assuredly not normal! – David M Feb 23 '14 at 16:41
  • As a Brit I'd say it's the same as US English - "Has she the book?" is not a normal way of saying it, to me at least (though it's not grammatically wrong). – starsplusplus Feb 23 '14 at 21:30
  • @starsplusplus: Good to know, thank you. But I'm sure that I've encountered questions of the form "Have you a ...?" from UK sources. Is that usage obsolete, or is there a difference between you and she, or between the and a, or . . . ? – ruakh Feb 23 '14 at 21:34
  • Ah, it would sound a bit more normal with "you" and "a". I'd venture that's because "Have you a...?" is a request, so that structure adds an extra layer of politeness. You'd still hear "Have you got a...?" more often than just "Have you a...?" though - the latter's a little dated, though still useable. – starsplusplus Feb 23 '14 at 21:43

Questions with to have are a special thing, because you can find three possibilities:

a) Do you have the book? The standard variant in AmE.

b) Have you got the book? - Mostly colloquial BrE. See remark below.

And sometimes you find

c) Have you the book? - This is older English or colloquial English in some regions. I would not use this variant as it really is limited to certain regions.

In my view the most logic variant is a). "to have" has the meaning "to possess" so it is a full/normal verb and the use of "to do" in a question or negation is the logic thing.

Remark In BrE the question and negation with to do is accepted. Influenced by AmE this is used more and more, especially among the younger generation. Examples: - Do they have a nice little house? - No, they don't have a house. - Did they have a nice little house? - No, they didn't have a house.

The question with simple inversion is common in special uses of to have such as - to have a sister/brother: Have you brothers and sisters?

and also in uses where to have has the meaning of there is/there are: - How many days has September? - Has the room (got) two or three windows?

  • 2
    Americans say "Have you got the book?" all the time, but in the U.S., this is viewed as strictly colloquial, and the preferred formal version is "Do you have the book?". – Peter Shor Feb 23 '14 at 13:33
  • @PeterShor As to expressions like "Have you got the book?", CGEL considers the usage to be informal style and characteristically BrE (though, I use it and I'm an AmE speaker) and very common, especially in BrE. – F.E. Feb 23 '14 at 20:32

First of all, I want to credit @F.E. for misleading me into to finding the answer to this question in the "Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language" by Quirk et al..

Quirk classifies verbs into:

  1. Full / lexical verbs such as run

  2. Primary verbs: be, have, do

  3. Modal auxiliary verbs such as may, will...

The property that classifies have as a primary verb is its ability to act in a sentence as either a main or auxiliary verb.

Quirk discusses the uses of have in section 3.33, 3.34 and 3.35. From his discussion, I extract here the following uses of have acting as a main verb and combining with do in the usual manner:

We don't have any money

Do you have a lighter?

and the following uses of have acting as an auxiliary verb (acting as an operator in Quirk's words):

We haven't any money

Have you a lighter?

Quirk affirms that although this construction is traditional in British English, now is somewhat uncommon, particularly in the past tense:

Had she any news?

To further support that has in Has she the book? is acting as an auxiliary verb, @F.E. gives in the comments an excerpt from the "The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language":

While dynamic have is invariably a lexical verb, stative have can behave as either a lexical verb or, in some varieties, an auxiliary. This means that for the negative we have either don't have or haven't (or the analytic forms with not), and analogously with inversion.

  • On the contrary, in this sentence has is not an auxiliary. It is perfectly grammatical (though as @rogermue says, rather formal) in British English. (I do not know what you think are the main dialects of English, but if you exclude British English from them you are talking nonsense). -1 – Colin Fine Feb 23 '14 at 13:27
  • Well, I think one can write about this problem more than a page. But I think it can never describe all facets of the problem as language is changing and people have their individual habit of speaking. One can only give an introduction into the problem. – rogermue Feb 23 '14 at 14:13
  • @ColinFine, I apologise if the previous wording was offensive. Please, could you add a reference where I can read about this grammatical construct that until now I thought was incorrect? – Nico Feb 23 '14 at 16:35
  • @ColinFine In "Has she the book?", are you saying that "has" is not an auxiliary verb? – F.E. Feb 23 '14 at 20:13
  • +1 since your post has some interesting info in it (and also because each post in this thread so far has a mixture of good and bad info). Also, you've added some new good info from Quirk. (To do a real solid post on this topic, that would probably take up a good hunk of time and care.) – F.E. Feb 23 '14 at 20:22

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