In referencing Webster's dictionary of 1828 I came across the entry for the word 'Han'. The definition was stated as: "for have, in the plural." Source: Spenser. What does this mean and how was it used way back then?

  • Example in Google Books
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 7, 2015 at 16:40
  • Unrelated homonym Han(Chinese).
    – user98955
    Jan 7, 2015 at 22:15
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    @Amphiteóth when I saw the question in the list, I thought it might be about the characters called hanzi in Chinese, kanji in Japanese and hanja in Korean, as they're sometimes called Han in English (as "Han Characters" is a literal translation of each of those) in contexts where it makes sense to talk about them across their use in those languages (and Vietnamese which has a few different names for them in different contexts), but is rare otherwise. The Han there would come from the 3rd definition on the page you link to. The actual question turned out more interesting to my mind.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 8, 2015 at 1:20
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    @Amphiteóth I think of characters first because I know about Unicode, so that being the first thing that came to mind is as much about my general ignorance as my specific knowledge. Funny that the question then turned out to be about a completely different word that I wouldn't really think of (I must mentally file it under "have" or something).
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 9, 2015 at 2:58

1 Answer 1


At one point, a common conjugation of to have was:

I have

Thou hast

He hath

She hath

It hath

One hath

We han

Ye has

They han

Now I say "a common conjugation" because there were plenty of variations, and you might find someone using "we have" while still using "they han", or "we han" with "they hast" or "they have", and so on.

So as you can see, han was used "for have, in the plural" as that dictionary says.

Now we would use "we have" and "they have".

I imagine the use was already mainly historical by 1828, but maybe a dialect use remained.

Webster's main conjugation is:

I have, thou hast, he has; we / ye / they have

Which would suggest that han was no longer current in most dialects at least, but of course people might still come across it (reading Spenser, perhaps…) and look it up.

For an example of how it was used, let us indeed take a look at Spenser. Compare this excerpt from "The Shepheardes Calender":

For shepeheards, sayd he, there doen leade,

As lordes done other where;

Theyr sheepe han crustes, and they the bread;

The chippes, and they the chere:

They han the fleece, and eke the flesh;

(O seely sheepe the while!)

The corne is theyrs, let other thresh,

Their hands they may not file.

They han great stores and thriftye stockes,

Great freendes and feeble foes:

What neede hem caren for their flocks?

Theyr boyes can looke to those.

...with this slightly modernised version, "The Shepherd's Calendar":

For shepherds (said he) there do lead

As lords do otherwhere;

Their sheep have crusts, and they the bread;

The chips, and they the cheer:

The have the fleece, and eke the flesh

(O seely sheep the while!)

The corn is theirs, let others thresh,

Their hands they may not file

They have great store and thrifty stocks,

Great friends and feeble foes;

What need they caren for their flocks,

Their boys can look to those.

  • Thank you for going the extra mile on this for me. Does this word in question have an etymological connection to the Anglo-Saxon word of the same spelling meaning: boundary, stone or possibly from the A.S. word 'heonu'or sometimes heonane, hane, meaning: therefore? See A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Hall- 1916 Jan 7, 2015 at 20:46
  • @DuaneT.Bentz No, not at all. Or at least, if there is any connection with the boundary/stone word, it is very far out (I don’t know the etymology of that word). This han here is just a contracted form of the verb have plus the plural personal ending -en, so it’s basically like *haven (kind of like how the third singular present is basically like *haves > has). Jan 7, 2015 at 22:38
  • No, it comes from the Middle English haven (ich have, þu hast, he haþ, we haveþ/haven, ye haveþ/haven, thei haveþ/haven), which comes from Old English habban and hafian.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 7, 2015 at 23:36

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