Category: "Have"

«У меня есть» or «я имею»?

by Don  

Previously we discussed how the «у меня есть» construction can be equivalent to a I have construction, and we also discussed иметь, which means “to own, possess.” But if you look up иметь in some dictionaries, sometimes you will find something like this:

have /hæv/ n.: 1. иметь;

This sometimes leads to confusion: when can you use иметь for have, and when does that not work? Here are couple of rules of thumb:

1. When you want to know whether someone has a particular item on them at a particular moment, then you cannot use the иметь construction, you must use a variation of the есть construction:

У тебя есть ручка? Мне надо записать телефон. Do you have a pen? I need to write down a telephone number.
У тебя нет ручки? Do you happen to have a pen [on you]?
У тебя не будет ручки? Would you happen to have a pen [on you]?

(See this post for a discussion of the use of не in polite requests.)

2. When you want to know whether someone owns something, both the есть and the иметь construction are theoretically possible. Both are grammatical:

У вас есть машина?
Вы имеете машину?
Do you own a car?

The normal way to ask the question is «У вас есть машина?»¹ But if you want a verb that is vastly more formal or emphatic, say when a lawyer is interviewing a suspicious client, then you might hear «Вы имеете машину?»²

3. There are dozens of phrases where иметь bears the tense of the sentence but the noun that follows it in the accusative case bears most of the meaning. For instance:

иметь значение to mean something
(lit. to have meaning)
иметь смысл to make sense
(lit. to have sense)
иметь место to have a place
иметь в виду to have/bear/keep in mind
(lit. to have in view)
иметь возможность to have the opportunity

There are lots of phrases like this. Here are some examples:

— Почему ты меня покинула? Я ведь подарил тебе цветы!
— Это не имеет значения. Ты ведь украл у моей мамы тридцать тысяч рублей.
“Why did you leave me? I mean, I gave you flowers!”
“That doesn't mean anything. After all, you stole thirty thousand rubles from my mother.”
— Хочу примириться с Дарьей. Может, я ей куплю цветы?
— Это имеет смысл.
“I want to make up with Darya. Maybe I should buy her some flowers?”
“That makes sense.”
Не ругайся матом. Такие слова здесь не имеют места. Don't cuss. That kind of language doesn't belong here.
Имей в виду, что цветы не решат все проблемы с Дарьей. Надо бы и поподлизываться. Bear in mind that flowers won't solve all your problems with Darya. You're going to have to kiss up to her as well.
Ты когда-нибудь имел возможность ходить на концерт Леди Гаги? Have you ever had the opportunity to go to a Lady Gaga concert?

¹ Bear in mind that the question «У вас есть машина?» is ambiguous. It can mean either “Do you own a car?” or “Do you have a car [at your disposal today]?”

² Bear in mind that «Вы имеете машину?» can only mean “Do you own a car?”, not “Do you have a car [at your disposal today]?” Thus if you want to be perfectly clear that you are asking about ownership, then can use иметь, but it will have either a vastly more formal or more emphatic sense than “у кого” phrases.


by Don  

The primary meaning of the verb иметь is “to own, possess.” It's a fairly straightforward first conjugation verb:

to own, possess
Infinitive иметь
Past имел
Present имею
Future буду иметь
будешь иметь
будет иметь
будем иметь
будете иметь
будут иметь
Imperative имей(те)

The owner goes in the nominative case, and the thing owned goes in the accusative case:

Мой брат — меломан, он имеет семьсот тридцать шесть пластинок. My brother is a music fanatic. He owns seven hundred thirty-six records.
— У вас две пары очков?
— Да что вы, я имею четыре пары очков.
“You have two pairs of glasses?”
“Give me a break: I own four pairs of glasses.”
Когда я буду взрослой, я буду иметь три машины. When I grow up, I will own three cars.
До распада экономики я имел два дома, а теперь снимаю комнату у бабушки. Before the economic collapse I owned two houses, but now I'm renting a room from my grandmother.

Although all the sentences above are perfectly grammatical, I should point out that using иметь for “to own/have” is stylistically marked. It's more formal, higher style, and sometimes more emphatic, than the “у кого есть” construction, so don't automatically assume it's the best way to say “to own.” Soon we'll discuss the overlap between иметь sentences and «у кого есть» sentences.

Быть (not have, there is/are not)

by Don  

Every once in a while when you have mastered some grammatical backflip, you discover that one is not enough: you have to do a grammatical double gainer. This is the case to say that someone “doesn't have” something or that “there isn't” something somewhere.

You recall that when a person has something, in Russian we express by saying “At so-and-so is such-and-such.” The person shows up in the genitive case as the object of the preposition у, and the thing the person has shows up in the nominative case, and the “there is/are” is expressed by the word есть:

У Ивана есть книга. John has a book

When the person doesn't have something, the “doesn't have” idea is expressed in the present tense by нет, and the thing he doesn't have shows up in the genitive case.

У Ивана нет книги. John doesn't have a book

The past tense of нет is always не было, and the future tense is не будет. Notice the contrast between these sentences. In the “have” sentences, the verb changes according to the gender/number of the subject. In the “doesn't have” sentences, the verb does not change for the subject because there is no grammatical subject (that is, nothing in the nominative case), and the verb defaults to neuter singular form:

Past У Ивана не было книги.
Future У Ивана не будет книги.

These tricks also apply to sentences expressing sentences with the idea of “there is no” or “there was no”:

Под кроватью есть чемодан. There is a suitcase under the bed.
Под кроватью нет чемодана. There is no suitcase under the bed.
За домом был сарай. There was a shed behind the house.
За домом не было сарая. There was no shed behind the house.
Над городом будут тучи. There will be clouds above the city.
Над городом не будет туч. There won't be any clouds above the city.

Быть (have, there is/are)

by Don  

Every once in a while when you are studying a foreign language, you have to learn to do some grammatical contortion and say something in a way that seems bizarre in contrast to your native language. For us English speakers, learning how to say “have” in Russian is one of those.

In an English sentence like “John has a book.” John is the subject of the sentence. The thing that he has is the direct object. To communicate the same idea in Russian, you have to rephrase the sentence as “At John there is a book.” Specifically, when a person has something, the person shows up in the genitive case as the object of the preposition у, and the thing the person has shows up in the nominative case, and the “there is/are” is expressed by the word есть.

У Ивана есть книга. John has a book

Есть is the present tense form of the verb быть, so if you want to put those sentences in the past or future, you use the past and future forms of быть to say “At John there was a book” and “At John there will be a book.”

У Ивана была книга. John had a book
У Ивана будет книга. John will have a book

When an organization (as opposed to a person) has something, then instead of using the preposition у, the prepositions в and на are used with the prepositional case. Thus “The university will have/has/had a dormitory” comes out:

В университете будет общежитие.
В университете есть общежитие.
В университете было общежитие.

“The post office will have/has/had a fax machine” comes out:

На почте будет факс.
На почте есть факс.
На почте был факс.

Actually these sentences can be translated two different ways. «На почте есть факс» can be translated either “The post-office has a fax machine” or “There is a fax machine at the post office.” If these types of sentences use prepositions other than у-в-на, usually “have” is not the best translation:

Под кроватью есть чемодан. There is a suitcase under the bed.
За домом есть сарай. There is a shed behind the house.
Над городом есть тучи. There are clouds above the city.