One can contract I have to I've when have is a helping verb, e.g.

I've got an octopus in my pants.

Is contracting the main verb technically incorrect or merely antiquated? My father loves to say,

I've a month-old smoked shoulder I can cook for dinner,

and he sounds like a crazy old man when he does. I would like to know if I can shut him down by informing him that he is incorrect. :)

  • 1
    Actually, for the first sentence, "got" can be considered superfluous. "I've an octopus..." is acceptable. It's a matter of ear; "I've to do it" just sounds... off. :)
    – user730
    Dec 29, 2010 at 9:54
  • @J. M.: But "I've yet to do it" sounds just fine.
    – Jon Purdy
    Dec 29, 2010 at 10:13
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    @J.M.: This is true in some parts of the English-speaking world, but most would not find "I've an octopus" to be fine in the US. It would sound odd.
    – Kosmonaut
    Dec 29, 2010 at 16:44
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    I've half a mind to contract a main verb, just to demonstrate that it's grammatical.
    – user16269
    Mar 30, 2012 at 11:53

4 Answers 4


Contracting the main verb in a sentence is perfectly fine. It sounds awkward only when the pattern of prosodic stress falls on that word:

I have to do it.
* I've to do it.
I have yet to do it.
I've yet to do it.

But this is probably just because you can't use a contracted form in a grammatically stressed position, such as:

I don't know what it is.
* I don't know what it's.

But even then, there are sentences in which the stress falls on the contracted word and it doesn't sound awkward, showing that it's not ungrammatical except perhaps by the standards of a mad prescriptivist somewhere.

  • Considering that contracted verbs end up having no syllables of their own, I’d say you’re almost 100% sure to be wrong that there are sentences in which the stress falls on a contracted verb. There are sentences in which the stress falls on the pronoun that the verb has been contracted with, but that’s a different thing. Aug 4, 2015 at 20:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: You’re right, that’s what I meant to refer to—the word with which the verb has been contracted.
    – Jon Purdy
    Aug 4, 2015 at 21:19
  • I am rather with @nohat's distinction of how this is not common in American English Mar 1, 2018 at 20:45

In American English, the contracted form ’ve is only possible as an auxiliary verb. It is not grammatical as a main verb. This is not the case in British English, where it is grammatical, and this is one of the differences between British and American English

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    I've no problem with this answer. +1
    – Robusto
    Jun 20, 2011 at 12:30
  • @Robusto: I have reservations. Firstly because in my understanding you're an AmE speaker - so according to what nohat says, you should have a problem with your contraction there. But secondly because (BrE or not), I've got serious objections to the idea of contracting the verb in my first sentence here. Aug 4, 2015 at 21:59
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    I almost never say "I've yet to do it" but then I always say "I'm here". So, it's odd that we treat "have" and "am" differently, despite the fact they can both also be auxiliary verbs. Mar 1, 2018 at 20:47


I'd not even consider it antiquated. The contraction that is - the shoulder's a different matter.

  • Ah, nice touch. :-) As you say, it's fine. He's right in saying what he does. Dec 29, 2010 at 11:50

I disagree. "I've a lovely bunch of coconuts" (contracting the main verb) may be unusual in AmE, with "I have" or "I've got" being more likely, but it's not ungrammatical here (in America).

  • Care to add some references backing that up?
    – Helmar
    Jul 30, 2017 at 16:32

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