"I have him deliver the letters."
"I have him delivering the letters."

Is there a difference between the two? And what exactly does "have somebody do" mean? Does it mean "let" or "get somebody to do something" or "make somebody do something" ? Its never clear to me when seeing sentences with this "have somebody do" construction.

  • In BrE, it is something that might have been said of a household servant 100 years ago. Today, if you said it of an employee, it would sound rather demeaning and dismissive.
    – Mick
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 21:03
  • @Mick interesting, it's not demeaning or dismissive in AmE at all.
    – John Feltz
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 21:07
  • @Mick, IMHO it is quite formal, and that makes it sound dated, but I don't think that it is at all demeaning or dismissive. I
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


have somebody do something means that you arrange for somebody to do something. Here are some examples.

I will have the gardener trim the hedge next week.
You need to have somebody fix that step- it's dangerous!
I could have my husband drop by with your prescription if you like.

It does not imply let or make. get somebody to do something generally means persuade somebody to do something:

How can I get my kids to eat vegetables?

get somebody in to... has a roughly equivalent meaning, but could only be used when employing somebody, most likely on a short term basis, for example a builder:

You need to get somebody in to fix that step- it's dangerous!

Regarding your two sentences, the first one suggests that you normally or habitually arrange for him to deliver the letters, or you have arranged that he will normally or habitually deliver the letters. For example you might be talking about a member of staff who is responsible for delivering all of the mail on a daily basis.

The second one means that you recently arranged for him to deliver a particular collection of letters, and he is doing it right now.


"I have him deliver" is a way of saying "I assign the task of delivering to him"

What does Bob do when he first arrives at the office?

I have him deliver the letters.

"I have him delivering" is similar, but indicates that the task is currently underway.

Where's Bob right now?

I have him delivering the letters.

However, in some contexts, "I have him delivering" can mean that you think he performs or performed the task, but aren't sure. For example, in a police drama:

So where was Bob when the murder took place?

I have him delivering the letters, but the security camera footage has gaps, so we need to investigate him some more.


The first one means that you have some kind of ongoing need to deliver the letters, and you have specifically assigned him to perform that task, now and in the future.

The second can mean two things, and the second meaning is rather subtle:

  1. He's delivering the letters right now, i.e. as we speak.
  2. You need to deliver the letters, and you have him deliver them, but you would prefer to deliver the letters yourself or get someone else to deliver them.

The second meaning would usually only appear in spoken English, where you could infer the meaning from context; in written English you would probably make the italicized portion explicit:

I have him delivering the letters, but I'd do it myself if I had time.

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