Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Do I have to use have?

During my grammar classes, I have often been asked, “Can I delete the word have in this sentence? Isn’t it just wordy?”

The funny thing is, use of the word have is not a form of wordiness. When have is used in front of another verb, it is actually an auxiliary verb. That means it counts as part of the verb. And it creates a specific verb tense called the present perfect tense. Here is what that means.

The present perfect tense has two meanings. One meaning is that an activity that began in the past is still going on, as in

I have taught grammar classes for more than 10 years.

The second meaning is that an activity that began in the past has just now stopped:

I have finished writing the report. Now I am preparing to send it to the printer.

The first meaning is often used to describe a person’s experiences, as in

I have visited Canada five times.

I have tasted tomatoes straight from the garden.

I have completed one triathlon. (It was a sprint-distance one. But that is another story.)

The main thing to remember is that the word have is an important part of the verb, and not something to routinely delete. Deleting it changes the meaning. Look at the difference between these two sentences:

I have worked there 6 years. (Clearly, I still work there.)

I worked there 6 years. (I no longer work there.)

I hope I have given you enough information to prevent the gratuitous deletion of have!