contracted have

Months ago (I am a bad blogger), Brett wrote to ask:
Can you enlighten me any further on the differences between interpretations of "It's gone" in NA & the UK?
(You can probably tell from the NA [=North America] that Brett is writing from Canada.) Brett covers this issue on his English, Jack blog, where he writes:

I was somewhat taken aback recently when a disucssion on the ETJ mailing list brought to light the different interpretations of the 's in "Where's my car? It's gone." It turns out that most North American speakers of English interpret this as "My car is gone?" while British speakers tend to parse it as "My car has gone."
I suppose part of the reason I've taken so long to respond to Brett here is that I haven't much to add to his analysis. Or should I say: I've not got much? Or should I say: I haven't got much? or I've not much? At least part of the reason that BrE and AmE/CanE differ in their interpretations of 's as is or has is that BrE likes contracting the verb have more than AmE (and presumably CanE) does.

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. (Which is just part of the reason that I am annoyed that many people stereotype AmE as contracting more than BrE. If you claim it, back it up, and use some subtlety in your analysis, please!) So, while contractions of the type in (1) the most common uses of 've in both dialects, (2) is much more likely to be found in BrE than in AmE:
(1) I've been thinking. (have = auxiliary verb, expressing tense/aspect)
(2) I've a secret (have = main verb, meaning 'possess')
When have occurs between a subject pronoun and a not, the speaker has a choice--to contract the have with the pronoun (I've not gargled, she's not gargled) or to contract the not (I haven't gargled, she hasn't gargled). In both BrE and AmE, it is more common to contract the not. But the I've/she's not pattern is much more likely to be heard in BrE than in AmE; in Algeo's words the 've/'d not pattern is a "statistical Briticism". In the Cambridge International Corpus, he found for auxiliary have:
BrE: I haven't VERBed is 2.5 times more frequent than I've not VERBed
AmE: I haven't VERBed is 26 times more common than I've not VERBed
The contracted have is less common still in the past tense, but the BrE/AmE difference is more stark:
BrE: I hadn't VERBed is 20 times more frequent than I'd not VERBed
AmE: I hadn't VERBed is nearly 140 times more common than I'd not VERBed
Because BrE has an easier time allowing the contraction of main verb have, it is much more likely to allow negated contracted have as a main verb. However, it is more common in both dialects to insert a do and contract that to the not.
BrE: I don't have any NOUN is 10 times more frequent than I haven't any NOUN.
AmE: I don't have any NOUN is 60 times more frequent than I haven't any NOUN.

BrE: I don't have a NOUN is 6 times more frequent than I haven't a NOUN.
AmE: I don't have a NOUN is 55 times more frequent than I haven't a NOUN.
While writing this blog over the past few months, I've been vaguely aware that while I mark many variant spellings/words as I write, I don't mark my contractions as AmE or BrE. Since the favo(u)red forms are the same in both dialects, I suppose I can (retroactively) justify that lack of dialect-marking. But I've also been aware that I do type (and say) things like I've not (like here and here and here and more places) and they've not (here) and you've not (here), and I have the feeling that that's one area in which I've Britified myself a bit. Or bitified myself a Brit, possibly.

And while I know the comments will probably go all over the place even if I do say the following... If you'd like to discuss contractions involving other verbs, please send an e-mail rather than writing a comment. I will get to other contracted verbs at some point, but don't want to do so in the comments section!


  1. I want to start a trend in double apostrophication, but I'ven't got a clue how!

  2. Jangari: It's simple. Just start using sha'n't, wo'n't, and more subtly ca'n't.

  3. The more frequent BrE contractions of "have" may be influenced strongly by the Scots. (Surely ScE IS counted in BrE?!!) To me, "I've a secret" (especially) and "I've not VERBed" are aching to have "laddie" or "lassie" appended to them.

  4. "I've a secret"? I can't recall ever using or hearing any other Brits say that. "I've got a secret" is far more usual, surely?

  5. I know the point of the post was that the AmE ratios (26, 140, ...) are much larger than the BrE, but I'm actually surprised they're as small as they are. If an American said something like "I haven't any wool", I'd think they were trying to sound English or like they're in a nursery rhyme or something. In other words, I'd expect these forms to be all but nonexistent in standard AmE speech.

    Could it be that it's more common in literary and hence written AmE, and that that's what most of the corpus is drawn from? Or could it be that these forms are more common in certain US regions that I don't have much familiarity with?

  6. Sharon, I worried that it might be misleading that I used secret as the object of the contracted main verb have-- because I've got a secret is a fairly set phrase. (In the US, it was a name of a (orig AmE) game show in the 1950s, and it's been in many song lyrics.) I just couldn't think of another noun to put in the spot that didn't sound silly. But do note that I was talking about patterns, not actual sentences. AND, I've just checked with Google, searching only .uk sites, and there were 717 results for I've got a secret and 2700 for I've a secret. (Some of those secrets are adjectives--e.g. I've a secret stash of chocolate.)

    James, the material from the Cambridge International Corpus comes (according to their website) from: The English in the CIC comes from "newspapers, best-selling novels, non-fiction books on a wide range of topics, websites, magazines, junk mail, TV and radio programmes, recordings of people's everyday conversations and many other sources."

  7. Though a BrE speaker (Middlesex, RP, of a certain age) I have never used contracted have ('ve) as a main verb = 'possess'. It strikes me as odd when I hear, as I often do, announcers on BBC Radio 3 saying 'We've X, Y and Z...' in trailing upcoming programmes. I could only say 'We have ...', or less formally, 'We've got...'. And for people of my generation the negative is either 'We haven't got X, Y and Z...' or more formally 'We haven't X, Y and Z...'; the pattern 'We don't have X, Y and Z...' stills sounds American, though now widely used in UK. (Maybe more widely than 'We haven't got X, Y and Z...'? Another one for the Google searchers.)

    Old joke: American researcher to British woman:
    'How many children do you have?'
    BW: 'One at a time. Doesn't everybody?'

  8. Lynne, sorry I didn't make it clear - I wasn't referring to the specific sentence but to the construction - using 'I've' without 'got' to talk about possession. In speech, I would never do that. 'I've got a blog. I've got a great job. I've got a problem.'

    [Writing is different. Looking at my own blog, I notice that I rarely write "I've got" (and nearly all the examples that come up are actually "I've got to", meaning either 'I must' or 'I've reached'). It seems that I nearly always write "I have [a whatever]". I'm OK with "I have a..." but "I've a..." feels strange. Go figure.]

    Hmm. I just googled UK sites only "I've a" (141,000) and "I've got a" (964,000).

  9. I've got a luverley bunch of coconuts. Oh no you haven't. Oh yes I have. Haven't! Have! ...

    Or (Scottish Borders) You have nut. Have sut. Nut! Sut! ....

  10. OK, Sharon, I get it now.

    There is probably a regional thing going on here, with northern Englishes more likely to contract haves, but I don't have that information from the corpus (since it wasn't my corpus). However, it's not clear from the description of the corpus that it was geographically balanced.

    Still, there's no claim here that anyone would usually say I've a..., just that when it is said, it's more likely to come from a BrE speaker than an AmE speaker.

    Some of the contexts in which it seems most natural to me are:

    I've a good idea (what he's talking about)
    I've no idea (what he's talking about)

    In fact, I think 've sounds better with no than with not any (i.e. I've no idea versus I've not any idea, but 've no is not one of the collocations that is discussed in the Algeo book...

    The fact that people don't like any contraction with a main verb have seems to be the main purpose for sticking a got in. Compare:

    (1) I don't have a clue
    (2) I haven't got a clue
    (3) I haven't a clue
    (4) I have not got a clue

    (1) and (2) avoid contracting have in different ways and sound pretty natural (though (2) may be more idiomatic for this example). (3) sounds dialectal. (4) sounds really distressed!

    But when there's no negative, do we like the got as much?

    (5) I have a clue (why she's left).
    (6) I have got a clue (why she's left).

    In BrE, (6) is ambiguous between the meanings that AmE expresses with got and with gotten (see back here). To me, it seems that (6) in BrE is more likely to have the 'acquire' sense (i.e. what AmE would express by gotten) than the 'possess' sense of got, and the more natural way to say that you have a clue is without the got--i.e. the got is more natural in the negative.

    Hm, I wonder if someone's already done a corpus study on this. Maybe I'll set it as a student research project for next year!

  11. Thank you for this post. I recall having pondered at some point which form of contraction'd be more 'correct'. By which I mean, would sound most natural (for reference I'm trying to weed Americanisms from my English).

    I have grown fond of Jangari's solution in informal print (blogs, journals, forums, msn). "Amn't" is another favourite solecism of mine.

  12. American here. I'm fairly sure I say "I've no idea" relatively often. But I don't think I use that construction with other nouns, and I don't use it without the negative, ever. It wouldn't occur to me to say "I've no time" or "I've no money left" -- I use "haven't got" or "don't have" for those.

    Is it just me, or is "I've no idea" a common set phrase? Maybe I'm just eliding "I have", but then why only with "no idea"?

  13. "Amn't" isn't a solecism, it's standard Scots usage. I'm a Scot, amn't I?

  14. I've posted a photo which i think you placed a request for over at Brighton Daily Photo.

    All the best


  15. Ah, dear Dearieme, Scottish usage of "am"...

    "Amn't" is lovely, but far more wonderful are "ah'm ur" and "ah'm urny". Standard usages in Glasgow at least. But of course they expand to "I am are" and "I am are not." And that has for years confounded me. Where on Earth does it come from?? (Not a geographical enquiry)

  16. The photo that Dean refers to relates to the previous post on terraced housing, etc. Will put a link to it there!

  17. Another context where "I've" is natural is in the phrases "I've a good mind to" and "I've half a mind to". Google suggests that usage is split roughly evenly between "I have" and "I've", but "I've" feels much better to me.

    Ginger Yellow

  18. cameron, je ne dinna ken pas.

  19. I came back to this post after reading a comment on 'I'd no idea' - this sounds perfectly OK in BrE... it reminds me that I definitely feel there is a regional variation in the UK: Scots tend to say 'we've to catch the bus from here'; 'you've to beat the butter and sugar together first', whereas you wouldn't find many English people saying that.
    Another Scots and irish contruction is 'Did you not think to check your diary first?'; 'Do you not agree this is a good party?'. I have just heard a clip from the courtroom scene in the new kate Winslet film 'The Reader' in which this construction is used, but I don't know enough to say whether the speaker is British or American (difficult in movies!)

  20. This makes me think of the film Anita and Me, set in the English Midlands in the 70s... as I recall, "am" seemed to be used as pretty much any form of the verb "to be" (e.g. "you am", "they am")

  21. Always thought "I've not been" sounded more AmE than "I haven't been". Does the same apply to "contracted be" as in "you're/we're/they're not alone" compared to "you/we/they aren't alone"?

  22. 'They're not' is more common than 'They aren't' in English generally, but BrE uses 'They're not' 20x more than 'they aren't, and for AmE it's only 10x more, according to Algeo (2006). So, 'they aren't' is more frequent in AmE, but still not the preferred form there.

  23. For "I've (I have) no idea" I think I (AmE) would say something like "I'ev no idea". (Well, that and other wordings.) If I wrote "I've no idea" it would likely simply be the closest written approximate to "I'ev no idea". I don't think I'd actually say it with /aiv/.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)