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Around 1960, when we began learning English in Japan, we were taught British English. To our great surprise, we were forced to change into American English in the next grade. Japanese English teachers were also upset, especially in pronunciation. We could not help laughing when they could not pronounce 'can't' or 'tomato' or 'body' with the American accent.

The most striking grammatical change to me was the interrogative sentence, from 'Have you a camera?' to 'Do you have a camera?' This drastic change in English teaching was, of course, carried out under the considerable political and cultural influences of USA. From that time, in Japan, English textbooks written in American English have been predominant.

After some decades of learning English especially through books written in British English, I came to doubt whether the British way of questioning was heard in the daily conversation of the British people around 1960. Can I have your information or experience to clear up this doubt I have long held?

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    Based on my mom, who was 15 in 1960, and my grandmother, who was 40, middle class south of England: "Have you got a camera?" and I never heard it said any other way. Me I say "Do you have a camera?" Not sure why the change.
    – PatrickT
    Mar 29 at 23:45
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    @PatrickT: I'd ask "Do you have a butler?" but "Have you got a camera?" Perhaps it's because you own a camera, but employ a butler. My grandparents and parents were Northumbrian/Geordie. I'm Kentish/Jute. Btw, what's a mom? Mar 30 at 0:48
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    When I (first language German) started learning English (not American!) in 1976, our teacher made sure we didn't translate the German "Hast Du ..." literally to "Have you", but to "Do you have". So it seems like the standard, at that time, in Great Britain, was already the latter. Mar 30 at 7:16
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    @user3067860 - the service goes to pot and pretty soon there's beer tins lying about in odd corners. Seriously - keep the butler. The money you'd save isn't worth it... Mar 30 at 23:39
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    As one anecdotal point, an English colleague just wrote an email today asking "Have you enough <x> to <solve problem y>?", so the usage hasn't fully disappeared even today.
    – The Photon
    Mar 31 at 16:19

10 Answers 10

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Interesting question. According to Ngrams, "Have you a" was more common than "Do you have a" in the past, but it has reversed over time. Here, in British English, the reversal was around 1980:

BrE

The same search for American English shows the reversal around 1940:

AmE

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I'll supplement the NGram answers with some corpus data, which shows Have you + NP was in oral use in Great Britain. These samples come from the British National Corpus, which has both oral and print samples from the 1980s and 1990s. Searches and examples show that Have you + NP was still in use even at that time, though it may have been in decline compared to alternatives.

Search 1: "Have you a" - 50 results

  • "Have you a smoke now?" "Oh yeah, I've got some." (PS01A, 1-6 Feb 1992)
  • "Have you a dark grey? No?" "No. I have no grey." (PS1HH, 15-17 Apr 1992)
  • "Ah well I got the bloody fright of my life once. When I was in seeing the (pause) the banker, and he said to me he said, have you, have you a will made? Says I, no." (Oral history project: interview)

Search 2: "Have you any" - 222 results

  • "Thank you. Erm (pause) have you any (pause) do you sell fish fingers?" (PS1A9, 2-9 Apr 1992; note the mid-utterance shift, something I saw in one other result)
  • "Have you any money?" (PS0MA, 14-16 Apr 1992)
  • "Have you any idea how many books you might actually sell?" (Town council grants meeting, 21 Feb 1993)

Searches 3 & 4: "Do you have a" - 186 results; "Do you have any" - 178 results

  • "Do you have a secret deal with Oxfam?" (PS05X, 31 May - 1 Jun 1991)
  • "Do you have a blazer for school?" (PS1HH, 15-17 Apr 1992)
  • "Do you have a black skirt?" "Only a short one." (PS52C, 1993)

Search 5 - "Have you got a" - 314 results

  • "Have you got a ruler?" "Yes." (PS002, 13-16 Mar 1992)
  • "Have you got a car? "No, I haven't." (PS029, 2-6 Dec 1991)
  • "Edward. Have you got a smelly bum?" (PS1A9, 2-9 Apr 1992)

Basically, the have you + NP construction continued to be in usage through the early 1990s, though the usages with do or the usage with got are widespread. I see in a couple of cases a tendency to self-correct to a do-construction ("Have you any (pause) do you sell fish fingers?") or to respond in a different form ("Have you a smoke now?" "Oh yeah, I've got some."). Over the past thirty years, it's quite likely the have you + NP usage has almost entirely aged out of the population.

Bonus: to the exact question of whether this would have also been used in the 1960s, yes, it would have. The Hansard Corpus for British Parliament provides a couple of examples of spoken use from the decade:

I wanted to allow the inspector to seize a display ticket which was actually on the goods to be seen, not to say to the seller: " Have you a display ticket for this? " and then take it: (Faringdon, Weights and Measures Bill, House of Lords, 6 May 1963)

When he was asked by the interviewer: " Have you a partner? ", he said, " Yes " (Thomas Jones, Welsh Language Bill, House of Lords, 15 June 1967)

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  • This actually gets a lot closer to addressing the 'conversational' requirement OP stipulates. Mar 29 at 16:06
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    I think all the searches here relate to the 1990s, whereas the OP is asking about what was common in the 1960s. "Have you a ..." is clearly a bit dated, and I would have thought was less common in the 1990s, but what about the 1960s?
    – abligh
    Mar 29 at 18:53
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    @abligh It's true. I don't have easy access to a good spoken corpus from the 1960s. However, I can infer, based on the phrasing existing in the 1980s and 1990s in spoken language as well as the popularity of the phrasing in print prior to that point and its relative absence today, that it also existed in spoken language in the 1960s. Mar 29 at 19:34
  • However as noted the form "have you got a ...." might be more common - can you add that to the answer?
    – mmmmmm
    Mar 29 at 21:27
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    Anecdotally, in the early 80s as a pre-teen I (BrE) definitely used "Have you got a..." exclusively. I remember when a new girl started at our school and asked me "Do you have a maths textbook?" and I was taken aback at how posh she sounded. "Have you a..." sounds very old fashioned to me and I would not be at all surprised if it had been common in the 1960s but faded away not long after that.
    – Vicky
    Mar 30 at 7:55
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These Ngram comparisons may help:

with "a"
with "any"

Around 1960, when it was my job to collect eggs from the hen-house, a visiting grandmother would often ask, "Have we any eggs?" If someone sneezed she would ask, "Have you a cold?" or "Has he a chill?"

(Btw, "Baa Baa Black Sheep" would need a 5/8 bar to accommodate 'Do you have any'.)

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    "Baa baa black sheep/ don't you got no wool?" scans fine
    – James K
    Mar 29 at 19:23
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    Just add a triplet --it makes for a more interesting rhythm :) Mar 29 at 20:43
  • @James K: Perfect! :) OK. "Hot Cross Buns". 6/8 bar: 'If you don't have any'. Mar 29 at 20:51
  • @Chris: That'd work. Or put 'Do' at the end of the previous bar: Do |YOU have any wool? Sounds like he's been asking around for a while! Mar 29 at 20:57
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    The BNC examples of "have you a" suggest to me (old and native BrE speaker) that the idiomatic usage is more complicated than simply "have you a <noun>?" For example "Have you a will made?" is really "Have you made a will?" with word order changed to emphasize the existence of the will rather than the process of making it. "Have you a dark grey" is clearly referring back to some previously mentioned item that is available in different colours. A sentence like "Have you a camera," with no context, sounds very odd IMO.
    – alephzero
    Mar 29 at 21:44
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I was born in England in 1960, went to a normal state primary school and then in September 1971 to a direct grant school (yes, they still existed). I well remember our first Latin teacher spending the first six weeks teaching us English grammar, on the grounds that we could not hope to learn Latin, until we understood at least some of the grammar of our own language. He covered also the way words change over time: got as a past participle was compared to forgotten and ill-gotten (and also with gotten in North America). So certainly as of September 1971 "Have you got" was idiomatic in British English.

As anecdotal evidence in support of this, still in 1974 the Two Ronnies could make a sketch "Swedish Made Simple", with FUNEX (can be found on YouTube). This only works if "Have you any" was reasonably idiomatic at the time in Britain.

As a side note, though, I would point out that the form "Do you have a ..." is regularly used with the implied meaning "now, on your person". For example someone wanting to light a cigarette might well ask, "Do you have a lighter?". Here they would not be asking, whether you own a lighter, but whether you have one on you at that specific moment. As far as I can recall, this usage goes back to my childhood: "Do you have a ball?" - so that we can play football (soccer) now.

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    @Jonathon:Quite true about needing English grammar before you start Latin! Btw, I nearly mentioned FUNEX earlier! I first heard it in about 1967: long before the Two Ronnies! It's probably as old as the Cockney alphabet: A for 'orses, B for mutton etc. Mar 30 at 8:01
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    "I well remember our first Latin teacher spending the first six weeks teaching us English grammar, on the grounds that we could not hope to learn Latin, until we understood at least some of the grammar of our own language." I would love to learn German but it appears I don't know nearly enough English grammar to have a hope of doing it properly - and I went to a very good voluntary assisted (direct grant, as was) secondary school. It's shocking how little real grammar is taught (or was, in the late 70s/early 80s, at least).
    – Spratty
    Mar 30 at 14:36
  • @Spratty Do not give up. I learnt German in my late 20s and speak it fluently, albeit with an accent (many Germans mistake me for Dutch, which I take as a compliment). You have a head start: English is a Germanic language. The problem is that German is much more rigid. However in normal conversation even native Germans neglect the rules. So just speak it as you would English. Over time you will develop an ear as to what "sounds right" and what doesn't. This is how children learn; they are not taught the grammar. Mar 31 at 4:36
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"Have you a camera?" is archaic, but certain English dialects, particularly in the North, like Yorkshire, have kept more archaic features and they were more distinct around 1960.

Using do as in "Do you have a camera?" is called a "Periphrastic Do" and was "invented" around 1500 in the South of England. Before that, English, as a Germanic language, was like modern German, with no need of a DO and reverse subject-verb order. E.g. "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" -> "Speakest thou English?" -> "Do you speak English?"

Today it's only used(outside aforementioned dialects) to deliberately convey an "old-timey" feel to some character. E.g. Aragorn, in the famous LOTR scene, when speaking with the (really old) dead, does not say: "What do you say(to my offer)?", he says: enter image description here

Even though he speaks "modern" throughout the movie.

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    As a German native speaker, "What say you?" sounds like a typical mistake a German with poor English skills would make :)
    – elzell
    Mar 31 at 16:51
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    @elzell, if someone calls you out on it, say you're retro 🤣
    – Eugene
    Apr 1 at 10:28
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Completely anecdotally, from my own parent's usage and my own recollection of speech amongst older Brits mainly from the Midlands (and older films/TV), I'd suggest the following:

  • Have you a ... - old fashioned (ie pre 80s, possibly pre 70s) formal/polite speech
  • Have you any ... - similar to the above but still used occasionally in modern speech, mildly formal/polite
  • Do you have ... - common in modern, mildly formal/polite speech
  • Have you got ... - very commonly used/preferred in modern common speech
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    How about "I say, you wouldn't happen to have a..."? :) Mar 31 at 9:57
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    Or even "By Jove old chap, you wouldn't happen to have ..." !
    – lukep
    Mar 31 at 11:12
  • Have you got is not modern - I have always heard it do pre 60s at least
    – mmmmmm
    Apr 1 at 14:08
  • By 'modern', I just meant that it's most commonly used/preferred in modern speech; all of the examples above will likely have been used to different degrees for hundreds of years. But I'll update the answer to clarify
    – lukep
    Apr 1 at 22:05
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I grew up in the 1960s not far from London. "Have you..." without the 'got' might have been dialect, but most certainly very rare in Southern England.

Have you got any eggs? Have you had measles? Will you have more bacon?

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The British National Corpus contains

1848 instances of "have you got"

1021 instances of "do you have"

222 "have you any"

50 "have you a",

18 "have you the";

3 "have you some"

2

Have you a car .... becoming less common, posh.

Do you have .... most typical

Have you got.... more in spoken use

After the war, The British clearly picked up American useage from watching too many films.

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I'm surprised. I'm German. I learned Englisch in school from 1971 on. We learned British English. We were taught that "Do you have a camera?" is correct English and not the (literatal German translation) "Have you a camera?". I am pretty sure there were native speakers involved in the design of our English books.

I stayed in London with some nice Brits in 1979. We had a discussion with their parents (in their 50s I guess), where they said that "Have you got..." is colloquial and should be avoided (although they used it all the time), and the correct way is "Do you have..." No "Have you..." at all.

So from this I would guess that at least in London it was not usual to say "Have you a Camera" in 1979, and at least officially not correct in 1971, and as the folks we stayed with were already a little older, I guess it was also unusual in London in the 60s and 50s.

Makes me doubt this change in usage in 1980. I tend to believe Peter Fox is right.

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    The Ngram is from written English, which only reflects changes in spoken English quite a few years later (maybe a couple of decades in this case). And I think it's very likely that in the 50s, people said "have you got a ...?" and wrote "have you a ...?". Apr 1 at 17:35
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    Thank you very much for your experience of learning English from 1971. It is very interesting for me. Japan had a long tradition of teaching British English before WW2, which would probably have influenced the compilation of English textbooks even after the war.
    – samhana
    Apr 2 at 0:05

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