My girlfriend is not a native English speaker, so sometimes she has questions about expressions for which I do not know the origins. This one, in particular, got me curious:

"I have this book" vs. "I have a copy of this book"

About music, you don't say:

"I have a copy of this song" but "I have this song"

Similarly, I never hear:

"I have a copy of this DVD" but "I have this DVD"

However, for books, I have commonly heard, and used myself for no special reason: "I have a copy of this book"

Is there a reason we sometimes refer to a book as a copy of the book? But

  • The value of a book frequently depends on its edition. So an early printing may be much more valuable than a "copy" from a later edition, even though the contents are identical. The word copy here is used to mean a single book, often referred to for marketing purposes with its edition. – Ronald Sole Jan 15 '17 at 13:46
  • 1
    One could just as easily say "I have that book." It just boils down to personal preference. – the_darkside Jan 15 '17 at 14:05
  • You got it: there is no special reason. And I've used "copy of this DVD". – AmE speaker Jan 15 '17 at 18:15

Actually, people do say they have copies of other things, it's just that books are the most common:

It's also very common to say some song sold N million copies.

I have X usually means the same thing as I have a copy of X, except when it means I have the original X.

  1. Is there a reason we sometimes refer to a book as a copy of the book?

    The book "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" can refer to the work of the author, however, wherever, and whenever it might have been published. It is about the text (content), not the physical books.

    A copy of the book "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" refers to a particular physical (or electronic or...) instance of the book - not to the class of all such copies or the content (text) of the book.

  2. I have this [or that] book means that the person has a copy of the book. An individual instance (or possibly several) is understood.

    So it is not necessary to add "a copy of" in this context. But it certainly doesn't hurt. And adding that phrase can suggest a connotation that the instances possessed by the speaker might not be from the same publisher or in the same condition or of the same type (hardback or paperback; abridged or unabridged).

    The connotation can be that the speaker has a book that is similar to "this book", but perhaps not quite the same.

  • An episode of Newsradio turned on this distinction. For a year-end bonus, the boss gives a complete set of tapes of the old radio show Fibber McGee And Molly to Matthew, who is grateful until he learns that all his co-workers received Mazda Miatas, when he becomes somewhat envious. At the end of the episode, he learns the tapes were just a token of the actual gift: ownership of the actual show and the proceeds thereof. – Malvolio Jan 15 '17 at 18:30
  • Similarly, I once told a group of friends I had finished a book I was working on. The conversation went on quite a while -- how long it had taken me, what it was about, who the publisher was -- before one friend burst out laughing: "Oh, you finished a book you were writing. I was wondering why it had taken you so long to read it." – Malvolio Jan 15 '17 at 18:32
  • Voter: care to explain the downvote? – Drew Jan 15 '17 at 18:35

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