Learning a new language also gives you a new perspective on your own language.

When I started to learn my first foreign language, I was amazed how many words in English have multiple meanings or functions. Left is both the opposite of right and the past of leave. Light can be a noun (a bright light), an adjective (a light suitcase) or a verb (to light a cigarette).

Understanding the different uses and forms of words helps us to understand exactly what we need in different situations.

I find that using the verb have is a typical problem for learners of English. People often ask me which is correct: Have you time? or Do you have time? and if it should be He hasn’t called or He doesn’t have called.

This is because have has many different functions. The main two are to talk about possession (e.g. You have a car) and to talk about the past (e.g. You have sold your car).

When talking about possession, have is generally treated as a ‘normal’ verb, which means it uses do to form questions and negatives:

  • You don’t have a car. (Du hast kein Auto.)
  • Do you have a car? (Hast du ein Auto?)

 

When talking about the past, have is an auxiliary verb (Hilfsverb). It doesn’t use do for negatives or questions and is used in combination with the past participle of a verb (e.g. spoken, been or gone).

  • You haven’t sold your car. (Du hast dein Auto nicht verkauft.)
  • Have you sold your car? (Hast du dein Auto verkauft?)

 

Another common way of using have is in have to, when we talk about the importance of something. Here, negatives and questions are also formed using do:

  • You don’t have to sell your car. (Du musst dein Auto nicht verkaufen.)
  • Do you have to sell your car? (Musst du dein Auto verkaufen?)

 

A simple tip is to check if you’re using the past participle (third form) of the verb with have. If you are, there should be no form of do with it.

To practise, try my ‘Have, or have?’ quiz!

Do you sometimes have this problem?

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