English teachers and lovers of grammar cringe when they hear improper grammar spoken and they can’t wait to whip out a correcting pen when they see improper grammar written on the page. It is as natural as breathing for this type of person to immediately pounce to fix a grammatical blunder. How do I know this impulse exists so strongly in these fine people? I know because I am one of those people whose mouth begins to dry out, who begins to break into a sweat, and is increasingly annoyed if a grammatical infraction is not quickly addressed. Recently, a talented fellow writer from My Web Writers posed the question whether the phrase “have got” is correct English or not. This pricked my attention and I began to say “have got” sentences aloud. For example, “I have got a stomach ache” versus “I have a stomach ache”. Another statement I audibly blurted (to myself) was, “I have got to find out whether ‘have got’ is good English, or if it is proper to say I have to find out whether ‘have got’ is good English.”
As it turns out, ‘have got’ is proper English even if it does not sound pleasing to the grammarian’s ear. In American English, “have got” is an intensive form of “have”, and adds emphasis a bit differently than merely dropping the word got and using the word have (1). To give an example of this possessive emphasis, if I say, “I have got a dog.” there is a stronger emphasis on possessing a dog than if I say, “I have a dog.” “Have got” is considered less formal than simply using the verb “to have”. Interestingly, “have got” is more frequently used in British English speech than it is in American speech, so Americans tend to say, “have” and the British tend to say, “have got” (2). For instance, in America a person might say, “I have a bad cold.” while in Britain a person might say, “I have got a bit of a sniffle.”
Even though the verb “have” is more formal than the verb “have got”, it is perfectly acceptable to use either form. Therefore, a grammatically inclined person can withhold the correcting pen on this one, and feel free to continue to use “have” in their speech and writing if they are so inclined.
1. Garner, B. Garner’s Modern English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003, pp. 381-82.
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_differences. Accessed March 26, 2011.