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The Vine

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Home » The Vine

The Vine: April 4, 2012

Submitted by on April 4, 2012 – 12:22 PM25 Comments

I have a friend who is fond of contracting "I have," but not when saying "I have done x" — he likes to contract "I have [a job]" into "I've [a job]," and seeing it in writing is driving me absolutely BATSHIT. My internet research thus far is coming up blank, but I just feel like using the possessive "have" in a contraction is incorrect. Oh, to have a copy of The Elements of Style by my side right now.

Is there any chance you know offhand whether this is an appropriate contraction, and I should just let it go (and possibly take a Quaalude), or whether I have a leg to stand on when explaining why this makes me so crazy? Thanks!


Dear Teri,

Offhand, I'd say that 1) it's an overcorrection or 1b) a British-Englishism, which therefore 2) sounds pretentious to you. To put it in context, members of a certain family may have announced their intentions to use the facilities with veddy grand phrasings like "I've to take a dump." "Have" as indicating ownership ("I have a dog") or obligation ("I have to walk the dog"), as opposed to the auxiliary-verb use we typically contract ("I have owned a dog for four years"), doesn't seem to indicate an "I've" in American English, and it can sound try-hard-y.

As for a definitive ruling, well, let's round up the usual suspects. Grammar Girl had an entry on troublesome contractions, but this particular issue only comes up in the comments, and I don't see anyone answering the question. I've got a tweet out to Herr Garner, so we'll see if he answers that, but in the meantime, let's see if his Modern American Usage has anything to add…and he doesn't. The entry on "Ill-Advised Forms" of contractions doesn't mention "I've"-ing "have" in this sense. Zinsser keeps his counsel on contractions short and doesn't mention this form of "I've" either. And the Chicago Manual has a graf specifically on "have" in its auxiliary form, but a) it doesn't mention the contraction and 2) that entire chapter was written…by Bryan A. Garner. Wherever you go, there you are. Love it.

A brief, baffled ransack of my bookshelves failed to turn up my copy of TEoS, so I don't know what it has to say, but various tweeps feel it's Britishy and not per se incorrect. If anyone can furnish a link, please do; otherwise, discuss/stand by for a response from The Man.

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  • Not A Book says:

    My brief perusal of TEoS doesn't appear to address it, but I'm no expert, either. Nothing under 'verb,' 'auxiliary,' 'contraction,' or 'have.'

  • LonOtter says:

    Husband and I watch a fair number of British TV series, and that's usage that's probably popped out of my mouth at some point. OTOH, I'm pretty sure I've never written it, nor am I likely to.

  • attica says:

    For my ownself, this isn't something that bothers me, certainly not out loud. But I live in a place where people speak very quickly, and the 'ha' part of 'have' often gets lost in the rush.

    Whether I'd object to it in writing would probably depend upon context. (Usually I'm too busy lamenting 'could of' instead of 'could've', but that's a rant for another day.)

  • Sarahnova says:

    I'm a Brit, and would describe it as perfectly acceptable colloquial BritEng. I'd correct it in a formal document.

  • Cora says:

    It's a Britishism, but an older one. I can only recall seeing this in the likes of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers, not anything recent. Is your friend a British mystery reader?

  • MsC says:

    I see this all the time, but usually paired with 'got'. I've got a job. I've got to have a drink.

  • Teri says:

    Cora, he's not a British mystery reader to my knowledge, but I fear that my hatred of the contraction is colored by the fact that he is quite possibly the most pretentious person I have the pleasure of knowing. He's a lovely person at most times, but still.

    I think I disconnected it entirely from the "proper" British usage in casual writing because I've (… heh) never associated his usage of it with anything British in the slightest. The mystery continues …

  • Rachel says:

    "I've a job" sounds very strange to me, and British, but then I think I've also heard it used "I've a mind to tell her just how mad I am," or "I've a good mind to go in there and complain about the service," and that sounds fine to me.

  • Amy says:

    I'm with Rachel in that I have heard it used in the same way: "I've a mind to do such-and-such." However, I don't recall if I have ever heard it outside of that context but would agree that it sounds British.

  • Andy says:

    "John Algeo, in his book British or American English?, reports that contracted have ('ve) is more common in BrE–about 1.5 times more frequent in BrE overall, but more than 5 times more frequent in BrE when used as a main verb, rather than an auxiliary verb."

    From separated by a common language, which may be the definitive blog comparing BrE and AmE.

  • Alivicwil says:

    I'm with MsC – "I've got a job"; "I've got to go now…"
    That said, "I've no idea" works perfectly well for my Australian ears.

    Would I write it? Not in anything formal – emails and letters, or as spoken dialogue in a narrative or recount.

  • Jane says:

    Just curious–SarahNova, have you heard the "have" as objective obligation ("I've to take a dump," as Sars puts it) contracted in British English? I haven't heard that one anywhere; the possessive "have," sure, but never the obligative.

  • Jen B. says:

    It's not listed as incorrect (or at all) in "Woe is I" by former NYT Book Review Editor Patricia T. O'Conner.

  • Crass says:

    "I've" is a common contraction in Australian English as well as British, but wouldn't be written in a formal letter, although I'd use it in an email or comment post as I've done here! :)

  • Laura says:

    Brit here, and to me it sounds like an old-fashioned usage (per Cora). To me it smacks of the somewhat highfallutin use of "I have" in place of "I have got", in cases where "I possess" is technically more correct than "I have acquired" ("I've an income of x pounds per annum").

  • Sarahnova says:

    @Jane: Yes I have, but more rarely; that usage sounds pretty unusual to me.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    I'm a non-Brit, but my favorite swear is "bloody hell," (I just like it so much better than American swear words), and "brilliant" for something that makes me happy/works out well.

    Otherwise, I'd no sooner use "I've a (fill in the blank)" than I would say "Cheers" for thank you. (I'm not putting those things down – I'm just saying, I'd feel very weird using them.)

    Just my two cents.

  • Maria says:

    I knew a Canadian who always said, "I've a …", "We've work to do", etc. He was older so maybe that is part of the issue. It could be something that has fallen out of favor.

    To my ear it sounds snooty, but not incorrect.

  • blahblah says:

    Funny that most seem to associate it with pretentious bristish usage. To my ears, it sounds like uneducated slang. BTW, don't you mean "…he is quite possibly the most pretentious person I've the pleasure of knowing." LOL.

    Regardless though, whether you are right or not, correcting friends never leads anywhere good. Especialy pretentious ones. It's just going to end up amounting to a pissing match, and neither one of you is going to concede the other's point. I get that you think the guy is a little annoying and pretentious, but really correcting people's grammer when you aren't their mother or copy editor is pretty pretentios and annoying as well. Let it go, or figure out a way to make it into your own private joke, but don't try and correct the guy.

  • Buni says:

    It's a Britishism, but an older one. I can only recall seeing this in the likes of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers, not anything recent.
    Hee, that makes me feel old then! I'm…under 40, shall we say, and I use, fr'instance, "I've to go now" all the time. On the other hand, I'm generally speaking Ulster British which can be anything up to 50yrs behind the mainland…

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    The word from on high:!/BryanAGarner/status/188210261927276544

    "I've four tomatoes here." Weird in AmE to use "I've" as a possessive in place of "I have." Unidiomatic–perhaps wrong.

  • attica says:

    How did we live without twitter? Awesome, prompt, and nice tomatoey example!

  • Teri says:

    @blahblah – No worries; it's not at all my style to correct people. This is more a case of "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills, and I need to figure out whether it's valid to feel that way," ha.

    @Sars – Thank you (and Bryan Garner)!!

  • phineyj says:

    Brit here (Londoner, under 40…just). Most of the sentences quoted above sound odd to my ear — I would say "I've *got*" in most of them. "I have four tomatoes" does sound rather American, or like a language teaching programme. I agree with the person who said it sounds like Dorothy L. Sayers dialogue (while on the topic of Sayers, it wasn't until I read her books that I realised 'garage' used to be pronounced in the French style by those in the know – she mocks the 'lower classes' pronouncing it as 'garridge', which is the standard pronunciation now).

  • Christine says:

    My father is English (I'm Irish, living in the US) and in his 80s, and I think I remember him telling me once that he didn't like the word "got". So I think as a result he might say "I've a sandwich". (He definitely told me once that the American "gotten" was more correct as a past participle than "got" – I think "got," to him, would have connotations of "recieved" rather than simply "have".)

    To my ear, the bald statement "I've a sandwich" sounds a bit odd, but "I've a sandwich sitting here on this plate waiting to be eaten" sounds fine. I don't really know how to account for that.

    To phineyj, I still don't know how to pronounce garage. I try to avoid the word. Maybe it's an Irishism, but many people there still say "gar-aaj".

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