«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.


Comment from: Tim Perrin [Visitor]

Иметь место also means “to take place".

06/03/10 @ 02:45
Comment from: Ivan Skalauh [Visitor]

Also, nowadays the word “иметь” can be translated as “to have sex with". While “Вы имеете машину?” is a correct sentence, a Russian wouldn’t use it as it sounds like “Do you have sex with a car?”

But regarding immaterial objects, the word is widely used (иметь возможность, иметь значение и т.п.)

03/01/10 @ 03:17
Comment from: Tim [Visitor]

In addition to what you’ve said, as far as I know, иметь applies more to the abstract. Such as “иметь право.”

Although I guess it’s an imperfect rule, because you could also say у меня есть склонность к, or “I have a tendency/affinity/predisposition to.”

Not sure what to make of it.

02/02/10 @ 01:19

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