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I'm editing a text and came across the sentence

Tom has had a newborn baby and is taking care of his child.

It sounds wrong to me, I think it would be better to just say "Tom has had a baby and is taking care of his child." Would you agree? To me "has had a newborn baby" sounds like he had a baby but doesn't anymore. Which would be true after some time had passed and the baby is no longer a baby... But I don't know if this impression is correct or if it sounds strange for some other reason.

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    You could also make a case for "Tom has a newborn baby", since "newborn" implies a relatively recent event. Sep 4, 2023 at 7:56
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    "Tom has had a baby and is taking care of his child." I find this strange. (i) Tom (a male name) cannot "have" (=give birth to) anything. And (ii) it is unclear whether Tom is looking after the newborn and another child, or whether "his child" refers to the newborn.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 4, 2023 at 9:38
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    You can use "have a baby" to refer to the act of becoming a father, although that's a bit controversial and some people (mainly women but a few men) might object that you didn't actually do anything.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 4, 2023 at 11:14
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    Editing sometimes calls for rashness. The whole sentence becomes: Tom has a newborn he is taking care of. Don't need has had, don't need baby, don't need child. Sep 4, 2023 at 12:59
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    Assuming it still functions well in context, I find myself wanting this to become simply "Tom is taking care of his newborn baby," neatly sidestepping all "has/had" issues.
    – bland328
    Sep 4, 2023 at 20:13

3 Answers 3

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Until you can justify it by showing the context the text came from it's just poor English and at best sounds wholly contrived.

Even 'Tom has a newborn baby and is taking care of his child' sounds much less natural than might '… taking care of it/the child'.

No, "… has had a newborn baby" does not sound like he had a baby, but doesn't any more. It simply sounds wrong; tautological, if you want. On that level, try either "… has a newborn baby" or "… has had a baby". Does that difference make sense?

What might sound like he had a baby, but doesn't any more would be not 'has had' but 'had had.' Does that difference make sense?

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There are a couple ways in which your sentence is unnatural.

There are two meanings of "have" conflicting here. "To have" something can mean "to possess it," but "to have a baby" can mean

  • to possess a baby OR

  • to give birth to a baby

However, when is has the first meaning ("possess"), it's very rarely found in the perfect aspect—just the simple aspect. Since the verb in your sentence is present tense, perfect aspect, the default assumption is going to be that it means "give birth to," and since Tom is generally a male name, can't biologically have given birth to a baby (unless he is trans). So you probably want to change it to "Tom has a newborn baby and is taking care of his child" or "Tom has a newborn and is taking care of his child" (I would say that both are equally acceptable; in relaxed/informal speech I'm probably more likely to say "newborn baby," whereas in writing something slightly less relaxed/formal I'm more likely to say just "newborn").

If you're talking about the baby's mother, however—if the sentence were "Laura has had a newborn baby and is taking care of her child—then generally the sentence is going to be understood as indicating that she gave birth to a baby. In this case then "has had" makes sense. The difference between "newborn baby" and "newborn" is the same in this case as in the sentence with "Tom."

Informally, "have" meaning "give birth to a baby" can also be said idiomatically of a couple. If I say "Tom and Laura have had a baby," people are going to understand me to be saying that Tom and Laura are a couple and that Laura has given birth to a baby. In more formal language, however, this would be odd.

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You're right that it's a bit weird. But it's not objectively wrong, either.

To me "has had a newborn baby" sounds like he had a baby but doesn't anymore. Which would be true after some time had passed and the baby is no longer a baby..

This makes sense where have means to possess, but even then it sounds odd without some additional information, as in "Tom has had a large car in the past but now he has a small one."

But with babies have often means "give birth to." By extension, a parent who hasn't given birth to the baby may nonetheless be said to have had a baby, in this case meaning "become a parent." As noted in the comments, some might object, reserving the phrase have a baby to the more literal meaning of "give birth."

So either "has a newborn baby" or "has had a baby" - but not "has had a newborn baby", right?

I agree that both suggestions would be an improvement.

let's assume it's "Susan has had a newborn baby" - can someone explain to me why "has had a newborn baby" is wrong?

It's like "step foot in" instead of "set foot in": it's redundant information. Because have here has the sense give birth to, there is no need to say newborn. You don't give birth to 5-month-old babies.

When you say "Susan has a baby" you're no longer using the sense "give birth to" but instead simply indicating that the baby is in Susan's custody. In this sense, the relative time of the baby's birth is unknown, so it is normal to specify it with a word such as newborn.

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  • It is semantically wrong. have had a newborn baby. One or the other with have had, not both. This is just so obvious...
    – Lambie
    Sep 4, 2023 at 14:09

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