Can the verb have be used to talk of experiencing a state of feeling or an action prompted and or caused by an inanimate object?

"The song had me singing along to it."

"The song had me sing along to it."

"The book had me getting bored" (getting here implying a change of state instead of becoming)

"The book had me bored."

"The weather had me sad."

  • It's a widely known and used device known as personification, at least for implied human agents. You can look it up. 'Opportunity came knocking at her door' is an even more extreme example. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '15 at 19:26
  • Thanks. But do these examples make any sense grammatically? – anonymoo Feb 25 '15 at 19:31
  • Only the first sounds natural. Grammaticality isn't the only criterion for acceptable English. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '15 at 19:32
  • Could you please provide an explanation as to why the latter are unnatural and if they are even correct. – anonymoo Feb 25 '15 at 19:35
  • The active ones sound OK, the passive ones sound wrong. "The book had me bored" sounds wrong ("The book bored me" is better), "the book had me yawning" sounds right. "The weather had me sad" sounds wrong, "the weather had me pulling my coat close around me" sounds right. But it can't be that clear cut - "the weather had me saddening" is no good. "The book had me getting bored" works, but it sounds awkward. (I can't provide any citation, which is why this is a comment, not an answer) – TessellatingHeckler Feb 25 '15 at 19:36

The construction provides a way of shifting responsibility away from a person onto the subject of the "have". If you said "I was singing along to the recording", you might well have chosen to sing along to some music that perhaps wasn't even suitable for a sing-along, but "The recording had me singing along to it" makes the recording responsible for it. You were just carried away against your will.

Notice that the subject of "have" is often also mentioned later in the sentence, to supply its literal role in the event.


Quick answer - yes and no.

Take the first two statements. The "to it" at the end is confusing or awkward. "To" is a preposition and "it" is the object. "To" implies something moving toward the object (it). "To sing along to it" implies singing to the song like a singer sings to an audience. This is not wrong, but is an awkward use. To "sing along with it" would be normal use. The use of "had" in "the song had me singing" implies the song made you sing along. Again, this is not wrong, but is not normal use.

The awkwardness of the statements is due to the not normal usage. If a movie reviewer was trying to pique interest in his review, he might say “the movie had me sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time.” The statement begs an explanation as to why. Your statements beg an explanation as to how or why the song had you singing, the book had you bored, or the weather had you sad. Each could be correct, but are not normal use, and they beg context. Without context, they first appear to be wrong or awkward.

So generally, you should not use “had” the way you are. You can be creative and use “had” the way you do, but it has to be in context – you have to explain how or why, or it will appear to be misused.

Your Answer

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

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