Why do people frequently say:

“Got to run, I have class!” instead of “I have a class!”

Why is the article missing? How can this be some “class in general since” since the speaker apparently means some particular lesson he has to attend? Is it acceptable to say “I have lesson!”?

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    My immediate reaction to the question was "that can't be a native English speaker saying it". Reading other answers, I realise that it can be a speaker of American English: "Class" is not used in this way in British English. You can say "in/to/from class", but not use it generally as a noun phrase, in a way that it appears you can in AmE. (We do use "school" that way, but not "class"). – Colin Fine Aug 14 at 19:33
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    Yep. LDOCE (section titled Collocations – Meanings 3 & 4) labels have a class with "especially American English". – userr2684291 Aug 14 at 20:40
up vote 28 down vote accepted

You can indeed use a determiner with class here if you are referring to a specific class — my class, this class, and so forth. Class can also be used in a non-count way, however. Macmillan notes this under sense 2a:

[countable/uncountable] education a period of time during which a group of students is taught together
- in class: We had to write an essay in class.

In fact, many nouns referring to some set, scheduled activity which preoccupies your time can be used without an article with have, where have is the sense of experiencing something (Macmillan sense 4b).

I'm leaving the party early because I have work tomorrow.

The parish hall is closed while the contraltos have rehearsal.

My oldest son has practice until 5pm during the season.

On Thursdays we have therapy with Dr. Wong and then go out for dinner.

We never see the evening games because my family has church.

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    It's worth noting that this is an Americanism. No one would have trouble understanding it because of how widespread American media is, but it still comes across as quite distinctly American English to native speakers from other English speaking countries. – Omegastick Aug 15 at 2:19
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    "in class" may be an Americanism (British English would probably say "at university" or "at school" or whatever), but the other uncountable nouns in the second quote block would be perfectly acceptable British English. "I have work tomorrow" or "I have therapy this evening" are definitely things I say – Owen Blacker Aug 15 at 15:44
  • Macmillan is a UK-based publisher and the non-count example in class is not marked as an Americanism, for whatever that's worth. Similarly, OALD offers See me after class. If I stipulate, though, I'm curious: how would a rightpondian pupil express the need to return to the classroom after lunch? Would it be I have school even though s/he is already at school? – choster Aug 15 at 16:15
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    Interestingly, "hospital" is reversed: it takes an article in AmE, but doesn't in BrE. – Acccumulation Aug 15 at 17:11
  • @choster "I need to get to my next lesson/lecture" is one way. – Laconic Droid Aug 15 at 19:58

There are quite a number of nouns (as choster's answer indicates) which can be used with have without a determiner. To say that we have {such a noun} refers to an item on your schedule, an obligation, a prior commitment.

But I don't think the meaning is "experiencing something" (as in I have a headache).

I cannot meet you after school, I have soccer.

I cannot join you for brunch, I have church.

I cannot join you for dinner, I have choir.

I cannot join you on the camping trip, I have community service that weekend.

I cannot join you on your trip to the beach, I have school.

I cannot make it, I have rehearsal.

The listener understands from the locution that what follows have refers to an obligation, a prior commitment, often a regularly scheduled one.

Sorry, I have court.

Sorry, I have rounds.

Sorry, I have kitchen detail.

You could even say:

Sorry, I cannot join you. I have Mary.

and the listener would understand you to mean that you had some obligation or commitment involving Mary.

This meaning of have also accepts an infinitive clause as its complement:

Sorry, I have to go.

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    Native AmEn speaker here. These all sound fine to me except "I have Mary" - if you said that, I wouldn't know what you meant. There are times where that sentence could be used and sound natural (eg. "I'm glad I have Mary (as a friend/lover/family)"), but not with that meaning. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Aug 14 at 22:08
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    @BlueRaja: Native speaker here also. You might not know exactly what I was referring to, but you would understand that I had some obligation involving Mary. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 15 at 0:28
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    @Tᴚoɯɐuo: Easily misunderstood, though. As another native speaker, if I heard someone say that, my first assumption would be that the speaker is having sex with Mary. – jamesqf Aug 15 at 3:26
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    As a native speaker I would expect to have more context about what the person saying "I have Mary" means. For example, if I know the speaker has a young child named Mary, or provides care from someone named mary, then the sentence will make perfect sense. Without that context of prior knowledge I'd expect the speaker to provide more detail. – Max Haaksman Aug 15 at 17:40
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    @jamesqf: If that is your first assumption, you're a linguistic outlier. No native speaker would go there given the context established: Sorry [I can't join you]...it is my practice to have sex with Mary. The idea of the routine or the regular would be conveyed by the simple present, have. That meaning would be a semantic non-starter, in context. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 15 at 17:49

It's an idiomatic expression. While "class" (as in "lesson" or "lecture") is not, strictly speaking, an uncountable noun, in this case it's used in the same way as other uncountable nouns like "time" or "space", as in the following examples:

I have time to help you with your homework.

I have space for more books on my shelves.

You can say either "class" or "a class". "A class" would refer to a particular class you need to attend, while "class" by itself refers to the general concept of "classes I need to attend".

As a British English speaker I suppose this sounds incorrect as class isn't commonly used in this context and would generally include the article if it was. "I have class" sounds more like an ironic boast about how they conduct themselves.

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    Keep in mind that many of the folks reading your answer aren't going to be fluent in English - you may want to explain why you would interpret "I have class." as a boast. – ColleenV Aug 15 at 11:10

I can't speak to why it is, but "I have class" is a common way to say the phrase in American English. It is more typical to say it when the person you are speaking with knows about your class, like if you are a high school or college student people tend to know you attend classes.

In the case where the audience doesn't know about your class, it would be more common to say "I have a class" which opens itself up to more conversation like "I have a class on cooking every Tuesday and Thursday night".

"Lesson" is not used the same way in American English, especially as it refers to school. A class is typically a series of lessons. Even a class that is one sitting that only lasts an hour could contain multiple lessons. "I have lesson" is not a common phrase, and sounds funny.

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