I feel uncomfortable saying sentences like the following:

  • "I've a car" instead of "I have a car"
  • "They've a great time" instead of "They have a great time"
  • "He's a pen" instead of "He has a pen"
  • etc

I ask this because I read this sort of thing in a book.

Are they correct? And what is the rule? Can you use such forms in a formal setting?

  • 4
    @serg555: Would you expect anything less on a site for grammar enthusiasts!? – Daniel LeCheminant Aug 5 '10 at 20:12
  • I think both of them are correct – misho Sep 14 '10 at 12:22
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    I've a car sounds British. – OneProton Sep 14 '10 at 17:57
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    He's a pen, sounds more like He is a pen. – Joe D Sep 23 '10 at 15:49
  • Hmm. So We've a long way to go in the UK, before we reach US linguistic standards? I know Americans favour inserting got there, but is that a closely-observed rule? – FumbleFingers May 21 '11 at 18:01

To an American ear, it sounds awkward, but in British English, this is not uncommon. Ironically, a Brit will probably tell you that the correct form is "I have got a small dog".

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    So the speakers in America don't use "I have got a small dog" at all? – Martin Vseticka Aug 5 '10 at 20:23
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    @Marty: Generally, no, I'd say. You're much more likely to hear either "I have a small dog" (which is what's regarded as "correct") or "I've got a small dog". – Adam Robinson Aug 5 '10 at 20:26
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    I've never heard I've used this way, and I've been trying to notice this sort of thing since I moved to London. I've heard I've got many times though and I'd regard that as "correct". – configurator Sep 29 '10 at 3:13
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    @configurator: It might actually be more of a written thing. Newspapers and such use it quite a bit. In speech, when you talk about what you have, you probably often use a bit of emphasis somewhere, so the contraction doesn't come into play very clearly. – Peter Eisentraut Sep 29 '10 at 10:53
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    Americans say I’ve got all the time. Here are some things Americans have got: a secret; your back; skills; the power. – Jason Orendorff Oct 18 '11 at 22:04

This is definitely an American English/British English thing, as you can't do it in American English but you can in British English.

In American English, you can't contract "have" if you are using it as a plain (not a "helping" or "auxiliary") verb. "I've a dog" and "They've a great time" are not grammatical in American English.

There are a number of other restrictions on contractions of "have" besides the one you cite. For example, you can't use contracted "have" followed by "not": "I've not been there" is not grammatical in American English even though "I've been there" is—if you want to contract, you have to say "I haven't been there".

I discussed this in a question about I’ven’t.

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    Hm, I don't quite see where's the authority behind the assertion in this answer. – Pacerier Nov 5 '15 at 13:49
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    Also, I'm an American English speaker and I use "I've not" in conversation... – KutuluMike Oct 14 '16 at 12:38

I think what you feel uncomfortable with is contraction of "have" as a main verb. When it's an auxiliary verb in, say, a perfect, contraction feels fine:

I've had a car before.

But contraction of main verb "have" meaning to own or possess feels weirder.

?And I've a car right now.

However, I have a feeling that people will contract main verb have in British English, but take that with a grain of salt. Americans faced with some kind of strange usage are far too willing to blame it on British English.

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    You are correct this is a British English thing. Contraction of non-auxiliary have is possible in British English but not in American English. – nohat Sep 14 '10 at 17:27
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    @nohat: agreed - though only in some regions (as a former Londoner, I would never use "I've" in that context). You also see it in older literature. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 14 '10 at 19:55
  • In my neck of the woods, a parent might well say I've a few things to say to you, young lady! to an to a recalcitrant teenage daughter. – FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 18:01

I think "I've a car" is fine, but unusual on its own: as part of a longer sentence it's unexceptionable: "I've a car in the garage".

I suspect this is for prosodic reasons: "I've a car" has no word you can stress, other than "car", so people tend to change it to either "I have a car" or "I've got a car".

The other case is different: I can't think of any examples where I would expect to find "he's a pen", though I would rate it as perfectly grammatical.

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    Again, as part of a larger construction, '... he's a pen that cost over 300 pounds' would be acceptable colloquially in the UK. These contractions wouldn't be used in sentence- or sentence-fragment-terminal position. – Edwin Ashworth May 29 '15 at 9:01
  • With regard to your second para, what is the reason why a sentence's not possessing a word you can stress lead to people not finding it OK (and so, changing it)? – HeWhoMustBeNamed Jan 30 '20 at 16:04
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    @MrReality: Dunno. I noticed that I have a car, I've got a car and I've a car in the garage are all OK, but I've a car much less so, deduced that this was a prosodic issue, and speculated as to what the governing factor might be. Actually I've just realised that the short form can be natural in some contexts, eg answering a question: "Have you got anything in your pocket?" "I've a pen". – Colin Fine Jan 30 '20 at 20:50
  • I found a really amazing explanation for this here, which says every clause in English has a mandatory stress slot in the predicate (though that raises another question, why is that so) and that stressed syllables cannot be syncopated; so if the reason it's awkward in AmE does have to do with stress & prosody, that oughta be it. But I'm confused why you say that "I've a car" has no words we can stress: Why can't we stress car, like we do pen in "I've a pen", in a similar context? – HeWhoMustBeNamed Jan 31 '20 at 15:59

They are both strictly correct but both slightly inelegant. The third especially could be confused with "He is a pen"

Some people like to avoid contractions like that in formal writing, but most people probably won't mind (or even notice).

It's probably wise to favour the contraction if you want to emphasise another part of the sentence: "I've never been so insulted!"

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    I'd go further and say that "He's a pen" is ALWAYS interpreted as "He IS a pen". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 14 '10 at 14:02

"I've" seems fairly normal to me as British (or at least Scottish) English, and is completely unambiguous. I don't think this "he's" would ever be understood as "he has" rather than "he is".


It is rarely appropriate to use contractions in a formal writing environment.

I've heard the first construction in speech, mainly British English, but not the second.

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    As demonstrated in your second sentence! – Alan Hogue Aug 5 '10 at 22:34

Technically, there's nothing wrong with it, although Uncle Mikey is correct that it's rarely appropriate to use contractions in formal writing.

The only reason the second one seems strange is because most people would say "They're having a great time," I suppose because they're in the middle of having it. I have said, though, "I'd a great time..." I just happen to speak too quickly.:)

I also say "I've got..." rather than "I have." When I'm not speaking incorrectly, I generally just say "I've." So, it's not just a British thing.

  • Any chance of an explanation. I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with my answer, and I'd like to. – kitukwfyer Aug 5 '10 at 22:39
  • I didn't downvote, but my guess is that someone disagrees with your claim that "there's nothing wrong with it". – nohat Aug 6 '10 at 4:27
  • That might just be it! Probably should have thought of that. – kitukwfyer Aug 6 '10 at 7:18

(I've) is a fine contraction, just in American English you can only use it to replace (I have) when 'have' is used as an auxiliary verb (eg: In conjunction with a past participle).

I've been there. (Correct) I've a dog. (Incorrect)

When the verb 'have' isn't auxiliary, It can't be contracted with pronouns.

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