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I have never heard of such a subtle difference between "I have got a family" and "I have a family" which seem quite interchangeable to me. Today I learnt that these two sentences have different meanings ("have got" is considered to be present perfect in this use):

I have got a family. = I have recently acquired a family (=my family is young).

More examples:

I have a car. = I bought my car long go and have been using it ever since.
I have got a car. = I have recently bought a car.
I have got a cat. Do you see these fresh scratches on my hands?

This difference can be critical for translation so I would like to know if it is really crucial and these two sentences don't have the same meaning.

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    The only time I'd use "I've got a family/cat." would be to say it in answer to "Anyone here have a family/cat?" Or, "I have got a family/cat in mind for this item." Otherwise, "I have a family." I might say, "I got a cat from the shelter." – WRX Apr 3 '17 at 18:07
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    To this US English speaker, "I have got" does NOT mean "I have recently acquired." I'm not sure where you heard that, but it's not US English usage. In US English, "I have got" is just a less formal way of saying "I have". – stangdon Apr 3 '17 at 19:25
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    @Stangdon: I read this in the blog of a Russian tutor of English. – Yulia Apr 3 '17 at 19:57
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    In British English, "I've got a family" is completely normal, and does not at all imply that they are only recently acquired. "I have a family" is rather formal. – Colin Fine Apr 3 '17 at 23:34
  • There are at least two existing questions on this site that deal with have, have got(ten), 've got(ten), etc. Use the search function. – green_ideas Apr 4 '17 at 3:08
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As a native speaker, I would not necessarily understand

I have got a family

to mean

I have a young family.

in your example got is an intensifier emphasizing the fact that you have a family or any age. It's possible the person who told you this was themselves young and had a young family.

"I got a car."

Can mean "Recently, I acquired a car." depending on additional context, but "I have got a car" does not. Using got this way is very idiomatic which is usually not used when describing a family, since one does not go out and "get a family" like one goes out and "gets a cat".

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First of all, "I have got a family" is quite colloquial (it sounds like something a blue collar worker from New York might say). In fact, I think it would sound weird to say it without using a contraction (I've got a family) but that's just my personal opinion. It is completely equivalent to "I have a family" except that the latter is a neutral statement and the former sounds more like the speaker is seeking pity.

I do not understand the grammar involved in "I have got a family." I think it might be most appropriate to remember that "have got" can replace "have" when describing possession in colloquial speech. "Have got" does not change the meaning but can add a sense of "I have it right now and it matters somehow" to the overall nuance. For example:

"I have a pencil." is a neutral statement of fact.
"I have got a pencil." is an informal response to "What do you have?"

As for the other questions:

"I have got a family." does not imply that the speaker recently got married or recently had kids. It states that he has a family and it implies that it should matter somehow to the listener.

"I have recently got a family." is not technically grammatical but would probably be understood by a native listener as "I have recently gotten a family." Errors of that sort are common enough that native listeners can easily understand. That statement is fundamentally different and is about obtaining a family rather than having a family. Thus, it does state that the speaker recently got a family as you suggest.

For good measure, in absence of context, the statement I got a family. is ambiguous and can mean both "I have a family." and "Now, I have a family. (which implies that "I" did not before)".

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For many people in many contexts it makes no real difference to the meaning whether I've got a family includes the indefinite article or not, but there can sometimes be a difference of nuance. Consider...

1: Do you have a family?
2: Do you have family?

I think most people would assume #1 primarily asks whether you have a long-term life partner and children you jointly care for (i.e. Do you have parental responsibilities?)

But #2 is far more likely to be understood as Do you have parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, etc. who either do or could/would support you? (financially, socially, etc.).


Note that nobody discards the article for things like I've got car, but there's a similar distinction with I've got cold (= I have become cold), as opposed to I've got a cold (= I have a respiratory tract infection). The version with no article tends to reference a state of being, rather than a specific thing.

In much the same way, you have a family that (you specifically) look after, but if you have family, the implication is that your state is that of being in close contact with a supportive family network.

  • By I've got cold do you mean the same as I've gotten cold? – Joe Apr 3 '17 at 23:49
  • @Joe: I believe many if not most Americans always use gotten rather than got in that context, yes. But I clearly defined the meaning as become cold above, so I'm not sure why you're asking for confirmation on that point. The got/gotten distinction doesn't affect the point I was making about the presence or absence of the article, but perhaps it would have been better if I hadn't bothered with Present Perfect at all - I could just as well have contrasted I got cold (= I became cold) with I got a cold (= I caught an infection). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 4 '17 at 12:52
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The way I learned it in class for English as a second language, "have got" is used for possessions only. That was British English. Alone because of that, I wouldn't combine the phrase to have got and the family.

Another aspect of to get is the presupposition of to have not. In that sense, to acquire a family is a meaningful event different from having the family.

In the most abstract sense, the word family describes relations that are subjectively bound to physical properties that are given and gotten, so everything that is had can be thought of as gotten from someone.

So have and have got are different aspects of the same event, the difference is in the active or passive voice. The Usage depends on dialect and style.

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