"To have" seems to fill a lot of different needs in the English language, apart from its literal meaning of possessing something.

It's an integral part of perfect and perfect progressive verb tenses: I have run, I had run, I had been running, I will have been running, etc.

It also indicates need: I have to eat, I had to leave (or is this another tense of some sort?)

This leads to forms of to have showing up multiple times in a sentence, and yet it makes perfect sense: I had to have had at least three apples.

How did this come about? I've noticed avoir and tener also have these same uses in French & Spanish, respectively.

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    Heh, reminds me of John Perry's funny essay [ On Becoming Bilingual ](structuredprocrastination.com/light/biling.php): “Consider, for example, the word "get" and the associated simple straightforward idea. […] "I got out of bed, got the paper, got myself some breakfast, got some coffee, and began to get dressed and to get ready for work. I got in the car, got to the office, and got to work. I got a lot done, and still had time to get some money at the bank and get a sandwich at the deli for lunch." To describe my morning in French I would need at least half a dozen verbs…” Sep 21, 2010 at 19:02
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    "Got in the car" -- Now that really is weird when you think about it Sep 21, 2010 at 19:20
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    Note: "haber" is the verb you're looking for in Spanish. "tener" means to hold/own/posess. "haber" is the one used as the auxiliary verb.
    – Noldorin
    Sep 21, 2010 at 19:50
  • Also, +1. I like historical questions such as these. :)
    – Noldorin
    Sep 21, 2010 at 20:03
  • @Noldorin: Can't you say tengo que ir ("I have to go") to indicate need? Though I do realize now that's the only use I'm familiar with, and maybe not to indicate tense. (I'm better versed in French than Spanish) Sep 21, 2010 at 23:12

2 Answers 2


First, a little side note: To have in English (as in other languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian) is an auxiliary verb most commonly used for forming the simple/continuous perfect and pluperfect tenses, among others. The other mean example of an auxiliary verb is to be, which is used very similarly in other European languages. (To do is another, though rather more specific to English perhaps.)

As far as the history/origin of auxiliary verbs goes, in particular to have, I'm afraid I don't know - this is rather a specialty of a historical linguist. However, I can tell you that the use of auxiliary/compound verbs (certainly in forming various past tenses) was not apparent in Classical Latin, which utilized only word suffixes for changing verb mood and tense. Since however the use of the auxiliary to form the perfect and pluperfect tenses is present in the three main Romance languages of today (French, Spanish, Italian), this suggests that the origin most likely lies with Vulgar Latin, i.e. the vernacular tongue spoken during the late period of the Roman Empire and early Middle Ages, which evolved into the various modern Romance languages. Whether English developed this compound verb form (auxiliary + principal verb) independently via a Germanic route, I do not know, but it is quite possible that it inherited this form from Norman French.

Apologies for the bit of speculation, hopefully it provides some useful information, or perhaps at least a starting point for further research!


Have is one of the verbs of being. The verbs of being are:

  • Be
  • Am
  • Is
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Shall
  • Will
  • May
  • Can
  • Might
  • Could
  • Should
  • Would

The verbs of being are "special" in that they can exist as helper verbs when placed in a supporting position (I have gone to the show), and also as primary verbs when placed in a more normal position: (I have measles).

All of the verbs of being have a multitude of uses in English because they are used to convey state and changes of state, which exist quite often in real world scenarios.

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