In the following sentence, what is the main verb and in what tense does it occur?

I have got a car.

There are two possible explanations that I can think of:

  • get as the main verb in the present perfect tense
  • have got as a phrasal verb in the present simple tense

6 Answers 6


To answer the original question, it's Present tense, and the verb construction is Perfect. Together they're often called "Present Perfect", which is a tense in Latin. but only a construction in English.

Yes, have got is an idiom; but that explains nothing except its irregularity, of course. And it's a different idiom in UK English than it is in American English, where it contrasts with have gotten. Like most idioms, where it came from is a long tortuous story.

Get means come to be or come to have, as in

  • He got tired. ~ He became tired.


  • He got his orders. ~ He received his orders.

(I've always been bemused that in German the verb bekommen means receive but not become.)

In the case of have, especially, if one comments on the acquisition of something, the implicature is that one still has it -- otherwise, one would say something different. So the present perfect of get naturally implicates the present of "have", leading to the equivalence of have got and have.

The Present Perfect construction uses the auxiliary verb have/has, plus the past participle of the matrix verb:

  • I have/He has gone.

The past participle of get is got or gotten in the US; UK mileage may vary. There is a principled distinction between the two, since get -- as the inchoative form of both be and have -- is itself an auxiliary, and got has come to have its own usages in American English, leaving the simple Past Participle slot to be filled by gotten.

As McCawley points out, one of the functions of the Perfect is to report past actions still relevant in the present; thus,

  • I've got a cold

reports a past event (catching the cold) which is still relevant (having the cold), and, since pragmatically what we're interested in is the present state, I've got a cold is used more often to warn people to duck when I sneeze than to comment on the events of the past week.

But wait – there's more. Both be and have are already auxiliary verbs, and are used in many constructions, like Passive or Perfect. Since get can implicate be and have in some cases, it's been generalized to substitute in others, where their use is grammatical instead of meaningful, like the so-called Get-Passive

  • He got arrested. ~ He was arrested. = s.b. arrested him.

or in the periphrastic modal have to meaning must

  • He's got to go. ~ He has to go. = He must go.

(frequently spelled gotta, because the /v/ or /z/ in /ðevgaɾə/ /hizgaɾə/ is usually inaudible)

or simply, wherever one might use have

  • I got a new DVD. ~ I have a new DVD.

Quite frequently children generalize this equivalence to produce sentences like

  • He gots a new ball.

in effect, inventing a new verb because the old one has worn out.

Got all that?

  • Sorry it's so long, but this is a really complex topic. I scavenged this from an old a.u.e post on this perennial topic; there's plenty more there, but I forbear. Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 15:37

The verb is "have got." It is neither a phrasal verb nor a verb in present perfect tense.

"Have got" is equivalent to "have."


I have a car. = I have got a car.

Do you have a car? = Have you got a car?

I don't have a car. = I haven't got a car.

  • 1
    As opposed to “I’ve gone and gotten a car from Hertz for today.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 13:47
  • Yes, exactly @tchrist
    – Cool Elf
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 13:59

It's a present perfect constuction consisting of the present tense of the auxiliary verb have and the past participle of the main verb get. It is, I understand, found less in American English than in British English.

  • 2
    Barrie, it’s not exactly that got is especially less used in AE. We would use it here just as you would. (I’m discounting grammar-school teachers who would delete it as an ugly or superfluous word.) It’s just that we use the gotten form when we mean something we’ve received rather than something we simply possess. “I’ve got mail” means that you possess it, while “I’ve gotten mail’ means that you’ve received it. We may also use it as a more general past participle, as in “That’s not something I’ve ever gotten around to doing”, in which for us the got version doesn’t sound quite right.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 13:46
  • Also, “I’ve got mail” is for us something that is talking about present conditions, while “I’ve gotten mail” is referring to a past event. So there is a tense-like implication here as well.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 13:50
  • I notice @tchrist contracted "have" in all of his examples, which I would do as well. Is that preference particular to American English?
    – Cameron
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 13:57
  • 2
    I believe Americans indeed treat have got as a present tense verb, and not a past participle. In the U.K., the standard answer to "have you got any bananas?" would be "yes, we have," while in the U.S., I suspect most people would answer "yes, we do." (As opposed to, say, "have you gotten today's mail yet", for which the standard answer would be "yes, I have.") Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 15:18
  • 1
    Yes. See, for example, this discussion. Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 17:58

In the previous example, when the mother exclaimed (of the keys) "I have got them", the emphasis is clearly on the subject pronoun "I" and the fact that there is no present need for father and son to continue searching for the keys. The emphatic interjection is strengthened by using I've got 'em, rather than "I have them"


I am open to being corrected but surely there is a difference between have and have got, albeit slight.

I read everywhere the example:

I have a car.


I have got a car.

And that they both equally imply possession.

I agree that they do but with different connotations. One is in the present simple and one is in the present perfect simple — and so the meaning for me is slightly different. Let me use a better example in a clearer context.

A father and his son want to go for a drive. The father looks for his keys and can’t find them so they both start an hour long search for the keys. Suddenly the father’s son spies them under a chair, grabs them and jumps to his feet with the keys in his hand and shouts: “I have them!”

Now imagine the same scenario but where the keys are not under the chair. After the hour long search the keys are still nowhere to be found. At this point the mother enters the room and asks what all the fuss is. They explain to her that they are looking for the keys and she replies: “I have got them!”

She reaches into her pocket and pulls them out, proving that she had them all along.

Using this example we see “I have them” means the possession of the keys comes into being in the present moment, whereas “I have got them” means possession came into being at some time in the past with the result being that they are in her possession at this moment.

So if we return to the previous example of the car:

“I have a car” means I have in my possession the use of a car; in other words, I can give you a lift somewhere right now.

However, “I have got a car” means that at some time in the past I came into possession of a car that is still my property.

This is my understanding of the difference but please, please correct me if I am wrong.

I do understand that in spoken English we mix the terms and meanings but surely by definition this is the difference?

  • 3
    I think you're being more logical than those who use the idiom are! What you say makes sense, but doesn't match actual usage. "I have got a large family, I'm the youngest of eight" would be said by someone who always had a large family. There's also the fact that it's combining a word that means a change of state with an aspect that means a continual state, which reduces the emphasis on change that get normally has.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 11:59

"Have got" can never be a grammatically correct present per construction because the main verb has to be in the 3rf form (past participle). Nevertheless, sometimes, as a colloquialism, it is used as the present perfect, as in:

"I've just got called to work. They have an emergency, and they need me to come right away."

The only way to use it as a grammatically sound present perfect construction is by putting the main verb into the 3rd form:

"I've just gotten home, so i simply want to rest."

Although both the former and the latter sound somewhat awkward.

  • P. S.: People would rather say "I just got called" and "I've just come home." At least in American English.
    – Igor Mar
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 8:34

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