I already know the main use of have when it's is used as a command:

I had the security kick him out.

I also know its use in sentences of cause, for example:

His jokes were so funny that they had me laughing

But I still don't know if verbs must be in the infinitive form or in the gerund form in sentences such as:

I had a bullet go through my arm.

I had a fan send me a present.

I had my lips bleed because of the medications.

(I believe I would use "bleeding" if I had said "The medications had my lips bleeding" because the verb have would be used as cause)

Just one more thing, can I replace have by got in this kind of sentence?

  • There's a sense in which the infinitive form suggests a volitional aspect (you caused it to happen) while the -ing form doesn't (it just happened). I'm not sure whether this is always the case, though, so I'll just leave this in comments for now. – Lawrence Aug 4 '17 at 16:59
  • The "had" has a strong connotation of possession in your "had a bullet" and "had a fan", I think. On the other hand I would never say "I had my lips bleed" – Hanry Hu Aug 4 '17 at 17:26
  • "I had a fan send me a present" could mean "I encouraged a fan to send me a present". If not that, "A fan once sent me a present" would be clearer, or "I had a fan who sent me a present". – Weather Vane Aug 4 '17 at 17:51
  • FYI, "I had Security kick him out" or "the security team" not "the security." – Kevin Aug 4 '17 at 18:16
  • What’s your “… main use of have… as a command”, please? If you really mean “you have to” that’s one thing but that’s also a very different thing from your “I had the security kick him out”. Either way, please recognise that in English, you had either “the security team…” or just plain “security…” kick him out and the difference matters. – Robbie Goodwin May 10 '18 at 20:34

"I had a bullet going through my arm" comes across to me as using a progressive form of the verb. Meaning, the bullet stayed there in your arm a long time. It was either a very slow-moving bullet, or it was very long and got stuck there. More likely scenarios are things like

The tunnel had trains going through it all day and all night.

The punk rocker had fish hooks going through his earlobes.

In the other example, "I had a bullet go through my arm", the bullet went through and out the other side, without remaining there very long.

  • When you say The punk rocker had fish hooks going through his earlobes. you mean he used the fishing hooks as earings right? If I say The punk rocker had fish hooks go through his earlobe. would that mean he had a fishing hook stick into his ear but then it was removed? – Luigi Manzi Aug 5 '17 at 4:32
  • @LuigiManzi, I can't imagine when you would actually say that, but it would probably (depending on context) mean the fish hook went through the earlobe and came out the other side. – The Photon Aug 5 '17 at 5:37
  • Sorry, LuigiManzi, and please understand that your supplementary question about punk rockers and fish hooks clearly indicates you didn't get what was being said. That matters doubly because it reflects the original Question. If you really see no difference between "going through…" and "go through…" then please clearly say why. Otherwise, please explain why it matters to you? – Robbie Goodwin Jun 4 '18 at 23:36

So, this use of "had" can have two meanings. It can mean, as you note, that you caused something to happen. It can also be a way of expressing something happening to you in the past, which is more a sense of possession.

In the first sense, "I had a bullet go through my arm" means that you caused a bullet to go through your arm. In the second sense, it means the same as "a bullet went through my arm".

If you have the progressive participle (not the gerund - they look the same, but they are different things) there, though, the progressive shifts the meaning. "I had a bullet going through my arm" means at the specific point in time, a bullet was passing through the arm. Some other objects might mean different; "I had an arrow going through my arm" might not mean the arrow is in motion, but that it is lodged in the arm with some of both ends sticking out. "I had a spike sticking out of" some body part would always have that static meaning, because that sense of stick isn't suggestive of movement or progression.

Sometimes, the progressive doesn't work for the 'cause' meaning. I think that's usually when the period of time the progressive would cover would be very short, like "I had a bullet going through my arm". "I had security throwing him out" can work, though, in the right context, in reference to a point in time where security were throwing him out on the speaker's orders.

So, by and large, in both senses, it can be either progressive or infinitive. It will have different meanings, and may or may not make sense depending on exactly what words are involved, and also depending on context.


We cannot tell grammatically whether it's causative had (caused someone to do it to you or for you on or your behalf) or experiential had (it happened to you).

I had my head shaved.

I had my arm tattooed.

I had my leg bitten by a rabid dog.

You wrote: I believe I would use "bleeding" if I had said "The medications had my lips bleeding" because the verb have would be used as cause.

That causative rule might work with intransitive verbs:

The heat of the campfire had our wet socks steaming.

The comedian had us laughing.

The whisky had my head spinning.

But it doesn't work with transitive verbs:

She had this guy stalking her.

She had her manager writing a glowing recommendation but was still denied a raise.

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