The forms: Have and has

SAMPLE 1: “This reality is what the people of Makoko community has effortlessly made a lifestyle.” (Children’s Day: Focus… Sunday Vanguard, 26 May, 2019)

We pay attention to the word has which occurs in the context: “people of Makoko community has effortlessly made…” The word has is clearly a wrong form in the context considering the fact that its subject is: “people of Makoko community.” First, we need to understand that the word (has) is a singular verb-form meant to agree in number with a singular noun/noun phrase serving as its subject. Is the reporter familiar with this grammatical fact? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, it is likely to be the case that he (the reporter) has mistaken the contiguous singular noun (community) for the subject of the verb (has).

If that were the subject, then the choice of the singular verb-form (has) would be right. However, both logic and grammar point unambiguously to this entity as the subject: “the people of Makoko community.” The headword of that phrase is people, a noun that is unmistakably plural. That grammatical fact makes the singular verb-form (has) unacceptable. The only logical option is the plural form: have.

There is an important grammatical difference between the forms has and have. This fundamental difference calls for a revision of relevant aspects of grammatical concord, a discussion that has featured in this place several times previously. But the issues are so important that they bear repeating as many times as the occasions require.

Consider the following sentences: 1) I go to school every day. 2) We go to school every day. 3) They go to school every day. 4) You go to school every day. 5) He/Shegoes to school every day.

In each of those five sentences, the verb to go is in its present simple form. There is a correlation between the form of the subject and the form of the verb. In the first sentence, the subject is in its first person singular form. The assumption here is that there is a speaker who uses the pronoun I. The speaker is regarded as the first person. Since the speaker is only one person, the pronoun I is said to be a singular one. A first person singular pronoun I takes the form go when the tense is present simple.

The subject in sentence (2) is a first person plural pronoun, we. Since it is assumed that two or more persons are speaking, we say that the pronoun is in the plural form. As it is with the pronoun I, the verb-form that goes with this pronoun is go when the verb is in its everyday form.

In sentence (3), the pronoun they, which is the subject, is in the plural form. Besides, it is the third person form. What do we mean by the third person? A first person—say I—speaks to a person directly about another person. That other person is a third person. In our case, the third person is plural—they. The verb-form that goes with the third person plural subject isgo.

The subject of sentence (4) is you, a word that can either be singular or plural. In English, it is only the context that shows whether the pronoun you is intended as singular or plural as the following sentences illustrate: (6)(a) You are a fool. (6)(b) You are fools. In those two sentences, it is the complement that indicates the number. In (a), youis singular; in (b), it is plural.

Now we come back to sentence (4). Whenever the pronoun you occurs, whether as singular or plural, the verb-form it takes is go. Youis a second person. A first person–I—speaks to a second person—you—about a third person.

Sentence (5) hashe (or she) as its subject. This form is a singular one and it is a third person. A first person—I—speaks to a second person—you—about a third person—he. The third person singular number– represented as he—invariably takes the verb-form goes. Of all the persons and numbers we have considered so far, it is only the third person singular number—he—that takes the verb-form that ends in s or es as the case may be. All other persons and numbers take the verb go—without the s or es. This distinction is very crucial and a failure to understand it has resulted in many users writing ungrammatical sentences. The distinction is a very clear one and you should make effort to grasp this elementary detail before you go on.

The other point we need to make is that the verb go has been used only as an illustration to avoid confusion. Any other verb in English behaves in exactly the same way as go, relative to the persons and numbers discussed so far.

The following sentences illustrate the point: 7) Hespeaks good English. 8) He writes a lot. 9) Sheloves the man. 10) He deceives most people. 11) It wags its tail. 12) He drives dangerously. 13) She possesses a balanced mind. 14) She sings beautifully. 15) She works round the clock. 16) It surprises me—this sudden change of mind. 17) Hecomes from a wealthy family.

Unlike the third person singular number (he, she, it), all other persons and numbers take the form of the verb without the s or es: 18) They speak good English. 19) We love each other. 20) Youwrite a lot. 21) I work round the clock. 22) They possess balanced minds. 23) You drive dangerously. 24) We sing beautifully. 25) Theysurprise us. 26) You come from a wealthy family. 27) They deceive their friends. 28) They wag their tails.

Before we make the next point about the subjects of these constructions and their relationship to their verbs, we want to introduce another verb-form, have. For the purpose of our discussion, we recognize three forms of the verb have. These are: have, has, and had. For the moment, we are interested in the distinction between have and has: 29) I have some books. 30) We have some books. 31) They have some books. 32) You have some books. 33) He has some books.

From sentences (29)-(33), we can see that all the persons and numbers except the third person singular number (he) take have. The third person singular takes has. It is now obvious that the form goes and similar forms such as: speaks, reads, writes, etcare related in concord to the third person singular subjects. Notice that in sentences (29)-(33), the verb-forms have and has have been used as main verbs and not as auxiliaries. When they are used as auxiliaries in perfect tenses, they behave in exactly the same way in relation to the persons and numbers of the subjects.

Consider the following sentences: 34) I have bought some books. 35) We have bought some books. 36) They have bought some books. 37) Youhave bought some books. 38) He has bought some books.

Again, notice that has is used only in sentence (38) in which the subject is a third person singular pronoun. It is also important to note that the distinction we have made between have and has disappears in the past form. The past form of both have and has is had. Similarly, the distinction between speak and speaks, write and writes, sing and sings, etc disappears in the past form.

For example, the past form of both go and goes is went; of both write and writes is wrote; of both sing and sings is sang.

Compare the following sentences: 39 (a) They had bought some books. (b) He had bought some books. 40 (a) We sang beautifully. (b) She sang beautifully. 41 (a) I worked round the clock. (b) He worked round the clock. 42 (a) You had some books. (b) She had some books.

The pairs of sentences in (39)-(42) demonstrate that the distinctions we have pointed out between the verb forms that go with the third person singular subjects and all others do not apply in the past form. The major point we have noted is the distinction between such forms as have and has; go and goes; write and writes; speak and speaks; work and works. Can you relate those verb-forms to their corresponding subject-forms?

Next, we draw attention to the fact that the pronouns we have used as illustrations can be replaced by nouns or noun phrases: 43) Olu goes to school every day. 44) Olu and Ayo go to school every day. 5) My friend and I go to school every day.

Sentence (43) has a singular subject (Olu) and therefore attracts the form of the verb with es. The word Olu can be replaced with the pronoun he—which we have described as the third person singular number. Each of the other two sentences has a plural subject and therefore takes the form of the verb without es.

We can use the verb have with each of the subjects in those three sentences: 46) Olu has a book. 47) Olu and Ayo have two books. 48) Myfriend and I have two books.

ALSO READ: Standing the test of time 1

Embarrassing grammar mistakes even smart people make (III)


Even though people use this word as a verb all the time, the best way to “un-thaw” something would be to put it in the freezer. Is freezing what you mean, or thawing?


Hot water heater

If anything, it’s a cold water heater. Just use “water heater.”


Boldface lie

“Bald-face” means shameless or showing no guilt. When a person tells a bald-faced lie, they are openly lying. An acceptable variant of this phrase is a “barefaced lie.”


Chock it up

The correct version–”chalk it up”– comes from keeping score on a chalkboard.


Through the ringer

The incorrect example above is missing a w. A wringer is an old-fashioned mechanism which presses water out of clothes being washed by hand, a process indicative of giving someone a hard time.


Subject and pronoun disagreement.

This one is subject to debate, but here’s my two cents. Take the sentence, “A person who smokes damages their lungs.” See anything wrong there? You should. “A person” is–obviously–one person. But “their” is a word you would use if you were referring to more than one person. Correct sentences could either read:

“People who smoke damage their lungs.” or “A person who smokes damages his or her lungs.”

In the first bullet, “people” is more than one person and now agrees with “their.” In the second bullet, the use of “his or her” can be awkward, so you can just pick one or the other as long as you’re sensitive to any gender issues an audience might raise.


Given free reign

It’s easy to see why this one looks correct, considering that “reign” is something that kings, queens, and other sovereigns do. Yet the correct idiom refers to the reins which control a horse. When you give a horse “free rein” you let it go where it wants to go.


Nip it in the butt

To “nip” means to pinch or to bite. Therefore, the correct version is “nip it in the bud,” which refers to snipping off a flower bud before it can bloom. The idea is to put an end to something before it gets worse.


Tie me over

You don’t really want someone to tie you on top of something, do you? The phrase “tide me over” is talking about sustaining someone through a difficult time and refers to the ocean’s tide, which is capable of moving boats to a new location when the wind will not.


Tow the line

To “toe the line” means to follow the rules. It comes from runners who put their toe to the line before running a race.


Chalk full

The word “chock” is an Old English word which means “cheek” as well as “full to the brim.” In other words, “chock-full” means “mouthful.”


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