The Difference between Having and Being

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What is the difference between having and being?

Having and being are two fundamentally different ways of identifying with life. They are two different ways of living.

Some people identify with what they have:

I have a sports car.
I have an I-phone.
I have a big house in Miami.
I have an apartment in downtown Manhattan.
I have a lot of money.
I have a gold Rolex watch.

Some people identify with a social role or a function they fill in society:

I am a parent.
I am a teacher.
I am a good friend.
I am a kind human being.
I am a child of the universe.
I am a student of life.

Do you identify with what you have or what you are?

Erich Fromm the Writer

The philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm wrote an important book about being and having. He said that some people identify with what they have. Other people identify with who they are. This is an important distinction. It is an important distinction in life and it is also an important distinction in grammar.

Having and Being in English Grammar

We use “being” to “to be” (the “be” verb) to talk about adjectives:

He is intelligent.
He is generous.
He is kind.

We also use it to talk about nouns which are attributes:

He is a teacher.
He is a good man.
They are tennis players.

We use “having” or “to have” to talk about things that we have or possess:

I have a new car.
I have a problem.
She has long hair.

This is a basic distinction in English and we use “to be” with some words but “to have” with other words.
Link to understanding grammar

Having, Owning and Possessing

There are three important verbs which express having. You can say:

I have a car.
I own a car.
I posses a car.

The first one is a common way to say you are in possession of something but it might not technically be yours. You might have a car that you have borrowed. You have the car but you do not own it.

The second one (own) refers to ownership. It means that you technically own the car. It means you have paid for it, or received it as a gift.

The third one could refer to having in possession or owning. It is not clear. It is a word which is seen mostly in writing and less commonly in spoken English.

Idioms with the Verb “to have”

There are many idiomatic expressions which make use of the verb “to have”

The verb “have” can mean, eat, drink or smoke:

They had a big meal.
I didn’t have lunch.
He had too much to eat.

I had a beer.
She had a coffee.
They had too much to drink.

I have not had a cigarette for years.
He had a whole packet of cigarettes last night.
Do you want to have a smoke?

Verbs Become Nouns with “to have”

There are many situations where we take a verb and make it a noun then add “to have”:

Looking at Something

I looked at the car.
I had a look at the car.

Listening to Something

I listened to the new song that he had written.
I had a listen to the new song that he had written.

Trying Something

I tried the new game.
I tried out the new game.
I had a go at the new game.
I had a try of the new game.

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I tried out his new motorcycle.
I had a go on his new motorcycle.

Link to a conversation about riding a motorcycle in the mountains.

Being, Doing and Having as Auxiliary Verbs

“To have” is also a common auxiliary verb. We use it in present perfect tense:

I have been to more than fifty countries.

Which countries have you been to?

Tell us which countries you have been to in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Keep Studying by Clicking the Links

You can find more lessons by clicking these links:
Understanding Grammar
Present Perfect Tense
The Food Page

Vocabulary is the Key

Life is Beautiful

Living and Dying

The Water Car

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