1

Consider

[1] a. Kim has courage.
      b. Kim has a car.

My question: Is there a known linguistic concept that captures the difference (that I seem to be detecting, as explained below) in the usage of the verb has in these two sentences?

What CGEL says

According to CGEL (p. 111), the verb has in [1a] and [1b] appears in the same function, which they call 'stative' (the actual example CGEL gives is She has many virtues/two sons). But it seems to me that there is something quite a bit different in the way has functions in these two sentences---maybe not syntactically different, but certainly semantically. I'll try to explain what I mean in two different ways.

Explanation of what I mean in terms of 'linking verbs'

I understand that linguistics does not find the category of 'linking verbs' a useful one (or even a well-defined one), as has been discussed e.g. here. But if we suspend our disbelief (if any) in linking verbs for a second, we might want to say that in [1a] has acts as a linking verb, whereas in [1b] it does not.

It is true that 'linking' to lone adjectives (as in A rose is red) is a hallmark of linking verbs (as traditionally defined), and yet has can never 'link' to (or be followed by) a lone adjective---at least as far as I know. But it is also possible to 'link' to noun phrases. So, for example, in

[2] a. Kim is a zombie
      b. Kim has a zombie,

[2a] is predicating of Kim that it has a certain property, namely, that she is a zombie. If you ask the question, "How many 'entities' are implied to exist by this sentence?", the answer is one, namely Kim. The zombie is not a separate entity; the zombie is Kim. All of this is very consistent, I think, with what friends of the concept of linking verbs would say is characteristic of that category. Also, the verb is in [2a] can be replaced by another linking verb (some that would work include remains, seems, becomes, turns, ...), and the resulting sentence not only makes sense, but its meaning is, in some sense, related to the meaning of the original sentence with is.

In contrast, the sentence [2b] implies the existence of two entities: Kim and the zombie. It further says that a certain relation exists between, namely that of 'having', or of 'ownership', or of 'possession'.

Explanation of what I mean in terms of properties vs two-term relations

An alternative explanation is to say that in [2a], has expresses a property (or a one-term relation) of Kim's, whereas in [2b], it expresses a two-term relation between Kim and the car. Properties and relations belong to analytic philosophy (for relations, see the section relations). They are (therefore) accompanied by one or another degree of controversy, so they are not the firmest foundation on which to build an analysis (which should be, well, scientific, or so one would hope...). But I haven't yet figured out a better way to explain why I think [1a] and [1b] use has in rather different ways.

Now what about [1]?

The sentence [1b] clearly implies the existence of two 'entities', Kim and the car, and asserts that the relation of possession exists between them. Things aren't as clear in [1a]. You could, I suppose, say that courage is also an entity, and that has again expresses a two-term relation. But that is not at all my 'mental picture' of [1a]. When I say that Kim has courage, I mean that Kim is courageous, no more and no less. To my mind, there is no action of possessing here that is in any way comparable to the clear case of possession in [1b].

Further evidence that [1a] is different: if has is replaced by at least some of the verbs that are traditionally thought of as linking verbs, the sentence that results is at least marginally sensical, and moreover its meaning (such as it is) is related to the meaning of the original sentence. Consider e.g. replacing has by is: Kim is courage. I agree that it is somewhat dubious whether this makes sense. But it can be fixed by expanding it to Kim is the very definition of courage, which definitely does make sense. And this expanded version would also work with is replaced by seems, becomes, remains, and many other traditional linking verbs. Substituting has back produces Kim has the very definition of courage, which is again a bit dubious, but becomes less dubious if replaced by Kim has what is the very definition of courage.

This process does, in fact seem to reach a fixed point. Both of the following seems grammatical, sensical, and in fact mean the same thing:

[3] a. Kim is what seems to be the very definition of courage.
      b. Kim has what seems to be the very definition of courage.

I take this to be evidence that at least in [3], has is as much a 'linking verb' as is is.

So while the replacement of has by other linking verbs and vice versa (in sentences like [1a]) certainly does not go through completely smoothly, nevertheless there does seem to be some sort of pattern there. It is just a bit trickier a pattern than what we are used to with traditional linking verbs.

A summary

The verb has seems to serve two rather different functions in [1a] and in [1b]. Those who like linking verbs might say that has is a linking verb in [1a] but not in [1b]; those who like the philosophical concepts of properties and relations might say that in [1a] has expresses a property of Kim's (that she is courageous), while in [1b] it expresses a two-term relation (one of possession of a car by Kim). Either way, something seems to be relevantly different about has in [1a] vs in [1b]. My question is: is there a known linguistic concept that captures this difference?

A bonus question for those who like the concept of linking verbs: do you agree that has in [1a] is a linking verb?

  • 3
    I fear you may be overthinking things a bit. It's a common enough trope to personalize characteristics as entities separate from an individual, and once we do that we can make those entities subject or objects in their own grammatical right. We speak of buying courage, taking courage, borrowing courage, etc. Are we to consider these linking verbs? – deadrat Mar 29 '16 at 0:44
  • 6
    has has exactly the same meaning in both. What is different is the semantics of what it means to have a quality attribute vs a physical object. – Jim Mar 29 '16 at 0:52
  • @Jim Thank you for your comment. But, what about the interchangeability of has with is in [3] (which I just added)? – linguisticturn Mar 29 '16 at 2:16
  • In that last bit you've got two different senses of "definition". One is "epitome" while the other is "quality". – Hot Licks Mar 29 '16 at 2:54
  • @deadrat Thank you for your comment. 1. borrow maybe indeed could be a 'linking verb' in this usage. After all, if have_could, in some rare cases, act like a linking verb, why couldn't other verbs? 2. having said that, _take courage is a phrase, a separate entry in a dictionary. One can have courage/pluck/gumption/chutzpah, but one can't take any of them. 3. Yes, maybe courage is reified in [1a]... but that's not the mental image I, at least, have. Maybe it started as a metaphor, but it doesn't strike me as one when I use it. And I think [3] may count as evidence for that. – linguisticturn Mar 29 '16 at 3:07
1

The short answer is no, has is not a linking verb and no, you haven't come close to showing that it is.

The long answer is that you seem to be confused about what a copula does. Traditionally it shows that two items have the same referent (The Evening Star is Venus); membership of a class (He is a teacher); or some kind of property (The rose is red). Higgins(1973,1979) refined this a bit to four functions: predicational (The cat is big), specificational (The detective is Sherlock Homes), identificational (That is John), and equative (Kim is a zombie).

You haven't shown has performing any of these functions of a copular verb, so the obvious conclusion is that it isn't one.

  • Thank you for your answer. 1. I was careful to not claim that has functions as a copula in [1a]. My understanding is that the traditional category of linking verbs includes copulas, but also other kinds of verbs. 2. It is true that if has doesn't (in usage [1a]) qualify as a linking verb, then I would like to know why. However, my primary question is whether there is some category recognized by linguistics that would distinguish the usage in [1a] from that in [1b]. – linguisticturn Mar 29 '16 at 4:00
  • Then perhaps you should tell us how you define 'linking verb', but note that by doing that you essentally reduce your whole argument to a search for a self-serving definition of 'linking verb' that gives you the result you want. 1a and 1b are the same. Kim posseses something, in both cases signalled by 'has'. Anything differences are in the semantic properties of the words used, not in 'has'. – Roaring Fish Mar 29 '16 at 4:36
  • 1
    To repeat, my main concern is not to defend or expand the category of linking verbs (which linguists say is ill-defined anyway), but rather to understand if [1a] and [1b] are really the same usage of have or not. And it does still seem to me that [1a] predicates a property to Kim, whereas [1b] expresses a two-term relation between Kim and the car. If this is so, then I would think that this distinction might be something that linguists have already studied; and if that so, then I'd like to know what it is. – linguisticturn Mar 29 '16 at 5:56
  • As far as linking verbs, just to play the Devil's advocate: one definition says that they are 'verbs that describe the subject or link the subject to some complement such as a predicate adjective or predicate noun'. It seems to me that a fair rephrasing of that is that linking verbs are those that express the fact that the subject has a certain property (as opposed to expressing the fact that the subject enters into a two-or-more-term relation with other things). That's the semantic part. – linguisticturn Mar 29 '16 at 6:04
  • The syntactic part is that they must either take a direct object or require a complement that is either an adjective or an NP (this is so as to exclude the intransitive verbs that also predicate a property to the subject, as in He hungers). – linguisticturn Mar 29 '16 at 6:05

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.