Unsolicited usage note on “I’ve” versus “I have”

March 8th, 2014

Here’s a usage quirk that I see from time to time — and that always throws me off.

It’s perfectly correct to say something like “I’ve an idea about that,” just as it’s correct to say “I’ve been thinking about that.” In each case “I’ve” contracts “I have,” and in each case the grammar works.

AND YET, saying “I’ve an idea about that” typically wrong-foots the reader. In more than 99 cases out of 100, surely, “I’ve” is followed by another verb, because the “have” hiding in there is a helping verb to designate the grammatical tense — not the standalone verb indicating possession. So the reader’s common expectation for “I’ve” is a phrase like “I’ve been thinking…” or “I’ve already gone…”

Contrast this to “I’m,” in which the hidden “am” is very commonly used either as a helping verb or as the standalone to-be verb. So a phrase like “I’m learning to play chess” (helping verb) is common, but so is “I’m good at chess” (“I’m” precedes a predicate adjective) and “I’m a chess player” (“I’m” precedes a predicate nominative).

Getting back to “I’ve”: in my view, for the sake of clarity, “I have an idea about that” is far superior to “I’ve an idea about that.” And, while we’re at it, “I’ve an idea about that” sounds twee.

All of this applies to “I’d” as well.

Your thoughts?

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