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Different Meanings of 'Have' in Everyday Speech

"There Will Be Blood" is a film about Daniel Plainview, an American oil man in the early part of the 20th century.

The film's story is dark. Plainview builds his oil business slowly by
using cruel, sometimes painful actions. The world he lives in is not a
happy one.

A famous line from the 2007 movie sounds like this:

"I have two others [oil wells] drilling and I have 16 [oil wells]
producing at Antelope. So, ladies and gentlemen, if I say I'm an oil
man, you will agree. Now, you have a great chance here, but bear in mind you can lose it all if you're not careful."

This week, our Everyday Grammar story is not about building an oil business.

Instead, our report deals with verbs. The verb have appeared several times in the audio you heard. You might have noticed that it had two somewhat different meanings.

Today, we will discover how the verb have often goes with specific nouns or noun phrases to express an idiomatic meaning.

The verb have

Have is very common in both speaking and writing. It is common because it has many meanings and uses.

The verb have is irregular. In other words, the past tense is not formed by adding the usual -ed ending.

Today, we look at how to use have when it is the main verb in the sentence.

One common structure is have + noun phrase. For example, you might hear a person say "I have a bicycle," or "I don't have a bicycle." In these sentences, the verb "have" means to own or possess something.

This use of have is somewhat rare in everyday speech, say Susan Conrad and Douglas Biber, two experts on English grammar.

In everyday speech, several nouns often appear after the verb have. Together,
these structures express idiomatic meanings. In other words, the
meaning of the group of words is different from the individual words.

Today, we will consider two common idiomatic meanings of the have + noun phrase structure. These structures are very common in films and popular music.

#1 To be thinking about something

The verb have often appears before noun phrases such as "an idea," "no idea," or "a question". When the verb have appears with these noun phrases, the structure takes on an idiomatic meaning: to be thinking about something.

Consider this example from the 1971 film Klute.

"I have no idea what's going to happen. I just, I can't stay in
this city, you know? Maybe I'll come back. You'll probably see me next

You will notice that the speaker says "I have no idea. The speaker
means that she is actively thinking about something and is unable to
provide an answer at this time.

How is this statement different than saying something like "I don't know"?

Saying "I have no idea" is more forceful than saying "I don't know."
They have the same general meaning -- but they have a small difference
in terms of style.

A less common noun that often comes with the verb have is the word plan. In the horror film The Silence of the Lambs, actor Anthony Hopkins as Doctor Hannibal Lecter gives you an example of this structure:

"Clarice Starling: Where are you, Dr. Lecter?

Hannibal Lecter: I've no plans to call on you, Clarice. The world is more interesting with you in it."

When Lecter says he has no plans to call on Clarice, what he actually means is that he is not thinking about killing her.

So, why did he say "I have no plans..." instead of "I'm not thinking about..."?

One possible explanation is this: Hannibal Lecter is a movie character who is always planning. His statement could mean that his plans might change in the future.

Whatever the case, he likes to leave his statements unclear.

#2 To get an opportunity/time to do something

The verb have often goes with other noun phrases, such as chance or time. When have goes with these noun phrases, it means to get an opportunity or to get time to do something.

So, for example, many American students have said "I didn't have time to do my science homework," or "I didn't have a chance to read the book."

You heard another example of this structure at the beginning of this program:

"Now, you have a great chance here, but bear in mind you can lose it all if you're not careful."

Daniel Plainview is trying to persuade people to help him build oil
wells. So, he uses the words "you have a great chance here." He wants
people to think of how they will profit from working with him (or giving
him money).

What can you do?

The main idea of this report was to explain common have + noun phrase expressions.

The next time you are watching an American film or listening to American music, try to find examples of have + noun phrase. Do the speakers use it in its traditional sense (to own or possess something)? Or do they use it in a different, idiomatic way?

Once you have learned the meaning of the phrase, ask yourself why the
speaker may have said what they did. Did the speaker say it for a
stylistic reason?

The answers to these questions may not be easy. However, asking them
can help you begin to understand how culture, style, and grammar work

That is all for today. Now, you have a chance to go learn other meanings of the verb have.

"Everyday Grammar":