Do I Need to Use “Have” or “Be”?

question-mark-1421013_1280Students in my class today were puzzling both themselves and me by writing sentences like:

  1. English has bad pronunciation.
  2. My finances don’t have much money.
  3. My weekend isn’t enough to do.
  4. The bus is too many people.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

They are confused about how to use “be” and “have.” They are also confused about what the subject of their sentence is.

Let’s look at the verb problem first.

We use be to link the subject with the adjectives or nouns that describe it.

I can say –

  • English is hard.
  • English is a school subject.
  • English is complicated.
  • English is a language.

We use “have” + an object to show that something belongs to the subject noun.

I can say –

  • English has a big vocabulary.
  • English has a lot of rules.
  • English has complicated grammar.

These nouns are features of English, but not the thing itself. You can see this more easily in the following examples:

Michèle_Mouton_2The woman has a race car.

Race car doesn’t describe the woman—rather, it is something belonging to the woman.

english-bulldog-1130970_1280

My dog has a ball.

The ball doesn’t describe the dog—rather, it is something belonging to the dog.


Look again at example #1 from the beginning of this post.
What is wrong with the subject?

Well, English doesn’t have pronunciation, people have it. The sentence should be rewritten:
I have bad English pronunciation.

If the writer makes English an adjective, she can write:
My English pronunciation is bad.
Now, bad describes the pronunciation.

For sentence #2, the speaker can write instead:
I am poor. I don’t have much money.
My finances are terrible.

For sentence #3, the speaker can write.
My weekend is boring. I don’t have enough plans.
I am lonely on the weekend. I don’t have enough friends to go out with.

For sentence #4, the student can write:
The bus is crowded. The bus has too many people.
The bus is full. The bus doesn’t have enough seats.
The passengers are uncomfortable.

Practice: All of the following sentences have “be” and “have” problems. Change them so that they are correct.

  1. My apartment is five rooms.
  1. My apartment has big and bright.
  1. My friend has kind.
  1. My friend is a good heart.
  1. The movie is many special effects.
  1. The movie has exciting.
  1. This city has sunny.
  1. This city is many parks.

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