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Didn't have VS Had not

nnnaaa

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Dictionary says that it is rare but right to say "I haven't a book" when you want to say I don't have a book. Then, is it grammatically right to say "I hadn't a book" or "I had not a book" meaning "I didn't have a book"?
 

Mike Cash

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It used to be considered the proper way to speak, but it has largely disappeared from current usage.
 

nnnaaa

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Thank you for your reply.
So it is not exactly incorrect, right? I was marking the exam papers and some students came up with that expression, probably not knowing themselves what they were writing. So I will just leave it as correct.
 

Chikokishi

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I use "i havn't..." when i am acting more elegant. Its (for me) more of a role playing act. Such as i might say "I havn't a piece of parchment" Im really just saying i dont have any paper, but im saying it in an elegant almost royal British way. So its not wrong, but its not standard - At least in the part of America i live.
 

eeky

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In standard modern British English, "I haven't a book" is effectively incorrect. One would always say "I don't have a book" or, probably more common, "I haven't got a book". "I haven't a..." is used only in some special cases, such as "I haven't a care in the world" or "I haven't a clue", or in extravagant sentences like "I haven't a thing to wear daaahling!".
 

Mike Cash

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People used to make the distinction as a matter of being correct, not elegant.

I like to think of it this way:

There are three broad basic functions performed by verbs in sentences; they express one of three things: action; existence; possession.

1. Action - "I eat breakfast"
2. Existence - "There is an egg on my plate"
3. Possession - "I have a book"

Now, consider that the action class expresses what one does and that consequently the concept of "do" is inherent in all verbs of this class. Action verbs contain two elements: the concept of "do" and something else that tells us the precise nature of what is done. We can see this clearly when we switch from a simple statement to a question: "What do you eat for breakfast?" In the case of questions in English, we invert word order. For action verbs, though, English has come to extract, insert, and invert the concept of "do". The SVO of "I eat eggs" becomes OVS(V) "What do you eat?" when the object is unknown or VS(V)O "Do you eat eggs?" when it is known. We effectively split the verb into two parts. Notice that where the tense changes, only the "do" portion is modified. "Did you eat eggs?"

Consider simple existence: "This is a pen" There is no action and hence no "do" contained in the modal verbs (forms of "be") and modal verbs also don't take objects (Which is why things like "It is I" used to be the educated ideal, instead of the currently universally MISused "It is me" ("me" is objective case)). So when we invert we get "What is this?" instead of "What does this is?" which is what we'd get if we followed the pattern for action verbs.

Now comes the problem....

In the case of possession....the concept of "have"....there is NO action inherent as is the case with verbs in the first class mentioned. Hence, there is no concept of "do" inherent in "have". Therefore, it is actually CORRECT to say "I haven't any money" or "Haven't you a friend in the world?" instead of "I don't have any money" or "Don't you have a friend in the world".

As a side note, for those of you learning Japanese, it can help a lot when you try to decide how to phrase something in Japanese if you first understand just what the heck it is you're trying to express in English. Examine whether you're trying to express an action, existence, or possession. Same thing works well for Japanese trying to learn English. When you get ready to try to say something in English, if you're having trouble deciding how to go about it first decide which of those three classes what you want to express fits into.
 
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Lestat84

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I have to agree with you on that. In learning French, I also learned a hell of a lot about the English language as as well. And I'm sure that Japanese will yield similar dividends and benefits. This is one of the reasons why I love language. I believe that using "haven't" in this situation is considered archaic, but is also probably more correct. I think that "don't have" is more conversational but is also probably correct.
 
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