I'm studying english and have been reading about Tenses.

It is my understanding that Perfect tense sentences use HAVE, HAD or WILL HAVE as auxiliary verbs. Some examples of different tenses have been given to me and the following one in particular has be quite confused;

I have four children.

I don't think HAVE is an auxiliary verb in this sentence. I think it is the main verb, in which case there is no auxiliary verb here.

My gut tells me this sentence is an example of Present Perfect, but it doesn't follow the rules. I this instead an example of Simple Present, or something else altogether?

Your help is much appreciated.

  • "Have" can be used as an auxilary verb, but it is also a regular verb, just like any other (you can also use the auxilary verb "have" with the regular verb "to have", e.g. "I have had four children") . In your example, it's just the present tense of the verb "to have".
    – MorganFR
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:46
  • Thanks MorganFR. In which case does HAVE as a main verb make this sentence Simple Present? the same way 'I STUDY ENGLISH' is simple present?
    – M_C
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 14:08
  • Well "to have" as a verb means to own/possess something, or to experience something. E.g. "I have (possess) a house and I have (experience) a fever." In those cases, you can use different tenses and auxilaries for "have" (will have, have had, could have, am having...) like any other verb. When "have" is followed by past participle, then it's the auxilary (that can also be conjugated), otherwise it's the actual verb.
    – MorganFR
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 14:12
  • 1
    I hate to be the one to tell you, M_C, but there are only two tenses in English -- present and past. There are a number of constructions that are erroneously called "tenses" and if your grammar book tells you that "Present Perfect", for instance, or "Future Continuous" is a tense, then you need a better grammar book. English has plenty of constructions, but they don't work the way those books say. Sorry about that; English grammar is mostly misunderstood and mistaught, world wide, and we deal with the results of that here. Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 15:39

2 Answers 2


"Simple present" is a reasonably good name for this construction.  There is only one word in the complete verb, so it makes some sense to call it simple.  I prefer to call it "present indefinite". 

Many textbooks lump all the properties of a verb construction under the heading "tense".  I find it easier to explain those properties separately: as voice, mode, tense and aspect.  Your example sentence uses the active voice, indicative mode, present tense and indefinite aspect.  In short, the "present indefinite". 

Leaving voice, mode and tense as they are, there are four available aspect constructions:

Indefinite:  I have four children. 
Perfect:  I have had four children. 
Continuous:  I am having four children. 
Perfect continuous:  ? I have been having four children. 

I've marked the perfect continuous aspect as questionable.  It doesn't make much sense when regarding the bearing or possession of a specific number of children, but "I have been using two accounts" is a sensible present perfect continuous construction, as is "I have been having children for as long as I've been married".

In the indefinite case, there is nothing that indicates aspect.  Nothing indicates a perfect aspect.  Nothing indicates a continuous aspect.  There is no indication of aspect at all.  From the grammar alone, we can't tell what aspect the statement has.  The aspect is indefinite. 

In the perfect-only case, we can tell that the aspect is perfect.  The "have" (a form of "to have") is an auxiliary verb which allows (or licenses) the perfect aspect.  The "had" is a so-called past participle which shows the perfect aspect (or satisfies the license).

In the continuous-only case, we can tell that the aspect is continuous.  The "am" (a form of "to be") is an auxiliary verb which licenses the continuous aspect.  The "having" is a so-called present participle which fulfills the continuous aspect license. 

In the final case, the rules for both perfect-only and continuous-only cases are fulfilled.  The "have" is a present-tense verb (a form of "to have") that licenses the perfect aspect.  Following it is the so-called past participle "been", which is a past participle form of "to be" that in turn licenses the continuous aspect.  Following that is the so-called present participle "having", which fulfills the continuous license.  The perfect continuous satisfies the rules for both the perfect (some form of "to have" followed by a past participle) and the continuous (some form of "to be" followed by a present participle).


Your gut might be trying to tell you something different.  Outside of the grammatical properties, some verbs are dynamic while others are stative.  This is a semantic difference, but it is a difference which impacts grammar.  Because "to have" (especially "to have children") is a stative notion, dynamic transformations don't make sense.  For example, the perfect continuous doesn't make sense in the absence of supporting context.  

In short, "I have four children" employs the active voice, present tense, indefinite aspect, indicative mode, and stative semantics. 

There is only one marker for tense, no markers for aspect, no markers for mode, and the stative semantics come solely from the definition of the one word in the verb.


I was searching for my answer when I saw this sentence I have four children and asking is it present tense if you accept I would to add in your knowledge that these sentences do not come under the category of present tense these are known as possession sentences that shows ownership as Greedy man has a huge garden or I had a book where these auxiliary work as a main verb. Can some one help in how to recognize possession sentences and present indefinite tense??

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage Afsheen. Please post this as a question, as it is not an answer. Thanks.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 9:44

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