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Common Error: Using "Have" Incorrectly

Hello, and welcome again to Mistake Monday! I often hear my Spanish-speaking students make this mistake, but I’ve also heard native speakers of other languages saying these incorrect phrases, so it’s a good idea to look at it:

Common Error: Using “have” incorrectly
DON’T say this: I have 23 years.
Tina has 10 months at her new job.
I have hunger.
This question has no sense.
WHY? -Phrases like this may make sense in other languages, but in English we sometimes have to re-phrase them or use a different helping verb.

-For example, in English a person doesn’t “have” a number of years; instead, s/he is a number of years old: “John is 23 (years old).”*
*Note: in this example, you can say “John is 23” or “John is 23 years old,” but not “John is 23 years.”

-In the second incorrect example above, if you want to say how long something has been happening, generally you use a present perfect tense and the word for: “Tina has worked at her new job for 10 months” OR “Tina has been working at her new job for 10 months.”

-In the third example, we also need to use the verb “to be” as our helping verb: “I am hungry.” (Notice that we change hunger to hungry, since “hungry” is an adjective). We generally use the verb “to be” with other temporary emotions like:
(TO BE + __ )hungry, thirsty, awake, asleep, tired, hot, cold, bored, annoyed, happy, etc.

-Finally, in some languages things can “have” sense, but in English if something is logical we say “it makes sense,” and if it’s illogical or confusing, “it doesn’t make sense.” 
INSTEAD, SAY THIS: -“I am 23 (years old).”
-“Tina has worked at her new job for 5 months.” OR “Tina has been working at her new job for 5 months.”
-“I am hungry/thirsty/bored/excited.”
-“This question makes no sense.” OR, more naturally: “This question doesn’t make sense.”

Well, that’s it for this week–I hope it all makes sense! If you are confused or have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact us. Thanks for reading!
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  1. Anastasio Chinchilla
    On March 9, 2011 at 4:47 pm Reply

    Ryan.. Sincerely I always made this mistakes and I didn´t know this error.. Thanks for the correction..

  2. Sitzman
    On March 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm Reply

    You’re welcome! As the name implies, it’s pretty common, so most people don’t even notice when they’re making this mistake.

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