Have you got good English?

I actually had to research this topic for a grammar and style class a few years ago. Fun times, those.

I hate this construction and I was bound and determined to prove that people who use it are numskulls, but unfortunately most usage guides, new and old, take its side as an informal idiom that adds emphasis. “There is not much difference between the verb have, meaning possess, and the verb get, meaning acquire, and the two are often used interchangeably or together for emphasis.”1 Many guides dislike the phrase, but they claim that it's inappropriate only in formal writing.

Its development came about because have was increasingly used as an auxiliary verb (what have you been smoking?), which weakened its ability to denote possession2 (I have more stories about trains for you). It was criticized in American English in the late 19th and early 2oth centuries. Britain jumped on the bandwagon in the mid-1900s even though it was much more popular there, and then it became accepted again in America around the same time.3


1. Evans, Bergen, and Cornelia Evans. A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage. New York: Random House, 1957. Print.

2. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1994. Print.

3. “Is ‘Have Got’ Acceptable English?” Grammar Girl. Holtzbrinck Publishers Holding, Inc., 01 Aug. 2008. Web.