Have you got OR Do you have?

This is a dilemma I often face, especially with beginner or elementary students. Do you usually teach them the form ‘have you got any brothers or sisters?’ or ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters’?

[Here’s an interesting discussion I found on this topic.]

The dilemma stems from the fact that students often get confused, and end up using ‘have’ as if it was ‘be’ in sentences such as ‘I haven’t a dog’.

I have come to the conclusion that part of the problem is due to how we Italians learn languages in schools. In Italian state schools English still tends to be taught as classical languages are taught. So, since when we study Italian grammar one of the first language items we meet are ‘essere’ (to be) and ‘avere’ (to have) — which in Italian are the two main auxiliaries — we tend to transfer this to English.

I don’t think this fully accounts for the frequent mistakes in the use of ‘have’, but I do think the expression ‘I’ve got’ tends to confuse Italian speakers, who then tend to think at ‘have’ as if it shared the same characteristics of ‘be’.

I’m not sure I’m making much sense with this, but the whole point of this post was: which form do you prefer to teach and why? I’m aware this is mainly a BrE-AmE difference, so your answer would probably depend on the variety of English you speak or are more familiar with. I tend to use ‘have got’ a lot, but feel reluctant to teaching it to beginner learners, who then feel very confused when they first encounter ‘do you have’.

I don’t think teaching them side by side would be a good idea, as it risks to confuse learners even more. So how do you go about it? Do you usually prefer to teach one form over the other or both? How do your learners react?

I’d also be curious to know how this whole questions fits within the ELF debate. I anticipate ‘do you have’ would be a preferable option in this case, being simpler and closer to how other verbs are used.

I’d appreciate it if you could share any relevant articles or blog posts on this matter, as it still puzzles every time I have to introduce a topic that requires a predominant use of ‘have’.

PS: the cover image of this post is just a tribute to one of my favourite romantic films ever, You’ve Got Mail. 😀

10 thoughts on “Have you got OR Do you have?”

  1. To be honest, I am really laissez-faire about this. I do not think this is such a big deal in the long run. Exposure to the language will sort it out and if the language is used to actually communicate to satisfy needs (asking people if they have [got] stuff), they’ll get it. There might be a stage with “do you have got?” but I doubt it. I have never experienced this. Certainly both need to be understood, so… if you’ve got time, teach both explicitly would be my idea.

    1. You’re probably right, but then how do you deal with the tons of ‘I haven’t a brother’ and ‘have you a sister?’.
      Would you overlook these based on the principle that they can be understood anyway?

      1. I probably wouldn’t overlook them. ‘I don’t have X’ fits a normal grammar pattern so should be pretty easy to take on.

        This is really interesting, by the way. Thanks!

  2. I’m like Marc and don’t really care whichever form my students use. Do you have seems more of a passe-partout (anyone who adds a comment has to include a French phrase, right?). But I know it’s a big deal in YL classes at school and my kids get bad marks if they use do you have and not have you got. What I can’t stand is I haven’t (I haven’t a dog)which was taught in the 1950s and still persists so I really make sure my students don’t use it.

  3. Hi Giulia,

    I agree with your reasoning on why students, at least Italian ones, get on the use of ‘have got’ and would like to add a reflection.

    I can remember being told that the ‘got’ was a ‘rafforzativo’ (it was used to reinforce the concept of possessimg)- when my mum found out, her reply was “rubbish”. After becoming a teacher- and having to analyse language (not saying I’m good at it!)- I agree ‘got’ can* be used to reinforce meaning but when you’re trying to persuade or suggest someone do something, e.g. ‘Giulia you’ve really *got* to come back to Twitter! We miss you!’.

    Gemma 😊

    1. 😂 Thanks Gemma!
      Actually my students are usually convinced ‘have got’ it’s “possessivo”. I’m not sure where that comes from, but look really shocked when I tell them this doesn’t make much sense. 😑

  4. Hi Giulia,

    It’s been a while since I’ve had a beginner group, but I think coursebooks – and I always used them with lower levels – would introduce both. My preference is for have and I’ve been guilty of presenting have got as just another option – not incorrect, but I made it clear what I preferred. The ‘I haven’t a dog’ could be heard sometimes, but this could be due to the Croatian for have/don’t have (imam/nemam) – a single word for both the positive and negative form.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Thanks Vedrana! The main problem arises when they are confronted with the two different grammar patterns for negative and question forms. They generally get really confused and mix the two forms. I agree that sticking to one is the best course of action, but then the textbooks we use are full of I’ve gots and have you gots.

      1. Yes, I know what you mean about the textbooks. Luckily, as a school owner I had considerable freedom when it came to choosing which structures to focus on (and include in the test).

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