The function of have

Elizabeth Ritter, Sara Thomas Rosen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


This paper proposes a unified analysis of all uses of main verb have, including causative and experiencer readings, alienable and inalienable possession, the locational reading, and is extended to account for properties of auxiliary have. Our analysis is based on the assumption that the lexical representation of have has no independent semantic content. By this we mean that it lacks the lexical semantic content generally associated with main verbs that mean 'cause', 'experience', 'possess', or 'contain'. Rather, the various interpretations of have are derived from the syntactic structure. We argue that there is only one verb have, that have is a functional item with no thematic roles to assign, and that have provides the additional syntactic structure necessary for the insertion of an extra argument. As a consequence, have is unable to provide an interpretation for its subject, and the subject must be related to some other constituent in order to get an interpretation. Finally, the specific meaning of have is determined post-lexically by the nature of the syntactic relation it sets up. We show that while have lacks lexically specified semantic content, it does acquire an interpretation as a consequence of the relation it sets up between the subject and the predicate. The subject of have receives an interpretation by one of two means: For eventive predicates, we assume that all arguments receive a syntactically determined event role, so the subject of have is interpreted by virtue of the role it plays in the event; for non-eventive predicates, the subject receives an interpretation via coreference with a constituent in the predicate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-321
Number of pages27
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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