I heard that the first one is correct, but the second one is wrong from non-native english teacher. Could you explain why the second one is wrong? I do not understand what the difference is. if the second one is correct, please let me know with detailed source:)

  1. if we didn't have a space elevator, we couldn't go up to the space station.
  2. if we hadn't a space elevator, we couldn't go up to the space station.
  • No matter what someone tells you, the second one is wrong. It's not right at all. If anything it should be ' If we hadn't had a space elevator, we wouldn't have been able to go up to the space station'.
    – Chris
    Jan 18, 2018 at 6:00
  • So you're telling me I can't speak my native language, then @Chris? gee, thanks.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 18, 2018 at 15:40

3 Answers 3


The two are identical in meaning; but the second is becoming rarer in British English, and is pretty well extinct in American English.

When have is an auxiliary (to form a perfect tense), all English speakers negate it like an auxiliary: "Have you seen it?" "I haven't seen it", not "*Did you have seen it?" "*I didn't have seen it" - the latter are not grammatical in any variety of English (which is what the stars mean).

But when have is a full verb (meaning 'possess', or 'own', or 'experience' etc), then usage varies. Americans almost always treat it like any other verb, and use do to form questions and negatives: "Do you have any milk?" "I don't have any milk". Increasingly people say these in Britain too, but many people (including me) prefer to use the older forms without do: "Have you any milk?" and "I haven't any milk". (In ordinary speech, most people stick 'got' in there: "Have you got any milk?" "I haven't got any milk".


"If we didn't have a space elevator..." is normal everywhere

"If we hadn't a space elevator..." is unusual in American English, and somewhat formal in British English.

"If we hadn't got a space elevator..." is normal in British English. [I believe it is not much used in American English, but I'm not sure].

  • I don't think either of the three versions is much used in any country without a space elevator ;) But of course +1 for the clear explaination and the assertion that not all that look strange is wrong.
    – oerkelens
    Nov 20, 2017 at 17:27
  • I have never heard 'Have you any milk?'. If someone said that to me I'd think he's or she's an immigrant. Sounds incomplete and frankly not even in British movies, tv shows etc. have I ever heard such a construction. Maybe you are a 2000-year-old vampire, who knows.
    – Chris
    Jan 18, 2018 at 6:05
  • Quite possibly you haven't heard it, Chris. Maybe you haven't lived in the UK for 62 years. The GLoWbE corpus (of Global Web-based English) has 821 instances of "Have you any", of which only 105 are from North American sources. This contrasts with 470 hits for "Have you got any" (47 from North America) and 8634 for "Do you have any" (1823 from N. America). So even in the UK, "Do you have any" is six times more common in that corpus than "have you any"; but even in the US there is a small number of "have you any".
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 18, 2018 at 15:50

If we hadn't is shortened for: If we had not. Had not what? The verb is missing.

It's not: if we have not had, if that is what you thought.

Complete beginning of that sentence would be If we hadn't made / built / erected ...

IMHO that would be correct sentence.

  • This is wrong. See my answer.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 20, 2017 at 17:26

Those two have completely different meanings. "if it didn't have" means if what you're referring to didn't have something. "if it hadn't" means if what you're referring to didn't undergo some change or action.

Example1:"if it didn't have so many hard words i would've learned German a lot sooner"

Example2:"if it hadn't fallen off the table i could've still used that vase"

Them being wrong depends on what you were hoping they'd mean in your sentence, if you were going for the meaning in your example about space elevators, the first one is correct.

  • This is wrong. See my answer
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 20, 2017 at 17:25

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