Can I say:

"Have you got something that you always forget to do?"

Or should I use "have got" only with tangible objects that I can possess?


That sentence isn't quite right, but that's because of its formulation rather than about possession and abstract objects. After all, the use of something in the sentence could refer to anything.

The problem with the sentence is that the verb in the first part should normally agree with the verb in the second part.

For example, both of these sentences would be fine:

"Have you got something that you always forget to get?"
"Have you done something that you always forget to do?"

As would others of the same construction:

"Have you made something that you always forget to make?"
"Have you touched something that you always forget to touch?"

And so on.

Note that one exception to this is the following:

"Is there something that you always forget to [verb]?"

Because of its nature, is can be used in this way with any other verb.

There is also a sense where got could be used in the same sort of way.

Consider this:

"Think of a number from one to ten. Have you got it?"

In this informal use of the word, got is used to mean thought of. So, the sentence in question could be taken as an elliptical way of saying:

"Have you got something in mind that you always forget to do?"
"Have you got something [] that you always forget to do?"

However, I suspect that this might come down to dialect and regionalism. For me, this kind of expression seems so awkward and unnatural as to be a mistake. While I would use Have you got it? on its own, as part of a broader context, if I used the longer sentence, it would always be the version that included in mind. But even then, it still sounds a little strange to me.

As for have got and tangible objects, it depends on what you mean by tangible object. (The fact that you need to possess something is accurate, however.)

You could ask all of these things:

Have you got a sense of humour?
Have you got an understanding of advanced calculus?
Have you got an illness?

Those are all things that you would be considered to possess, however none of them can necessarily be pointed to as physical objects. Although things like symptoms of a cold can be seen and heard, the idea of being ill is somewhat abstract and non-quantifiable—especially if you're talking about mental illness rather than physical illness. Certainly having knowledge or understanding is abstract.

For most abstract things, it would be odd to say something that you always forget to get. But it might work in some contexts—such as getting a feeling of confidence or relaxation, which can be got (or obtained) through self-discipline and certain mental exercises.

Note that while there is nothing wrong with have you got, the more common phrasing is do you have.

  • 1
    "Have you got something that you always forget to do" is completely normal speech to me. "Have you done something you always forget to do" would just seem weird. – SamBC Feb 9 at 10:21
  • @SamBC I have updated my answer with the one possibility I can think of why Have you got something that you always forget to do? might sound normal to you. (It definitely does not sound at all normal to me.) – Jason Bassford Feb 9 at 14:53
  • Maybe a dialect thing or something. Definitely something I would not think twice about on hearing, and quite possibly something I would say. – SamBC Feb 9 at 16:26

Really basic thing to get out of the way... you can use get, and indeed have, about abstract or immaterial things. That's fine.

As to the question itself... yes, I consider that natural. Informal, but normal and natural and unexceptionable. However, that is probably a dialect thing, given Jason Bassford's answer.

I would explain it like this:

"Have you got something?"

Get is an amazing verb. If people are asked what it means, I suspect they would usually say something amounting to obtain, at least as their first response. But it means so much more. It can mean to cause something, to become something or change state, to understand (which is really by extension of the obtain meaning, I suspect), and various auxiliary uses. It has a particular usage in the perfect, as seen here, where it essentially means the same as "have". It could be written "Do you have something". So, with just the first half of your sentence it's just asking if the person has something. It might be asked while searching a room. One person makes an excited exclamation, and the other asks "have you got something?". Or if some people are all sitting around trying to solve a complex mathematical problem, one makes an excited exclamation, and the other asks "have you got something?". In that case, they would be seeing if the excited exclamation was because the person had made a breakthrough, found something that helps them move forward with the problem.

Completely natural.

Then your sentence continues,

"...that you always forget to do?"

So we have a main verb for this phrase, forget. Then we have the adverb always and the verb complement to do. We have the subject you. We need an object as well; a standalone sentence of this would be "You always forget to do X", where X might be "your taxes". Either that, or another verb would take the place of to do, like to bathe. With to do as the complement, though, we don't have complete meaning, because to do is not complete on its own. However, this whole phrase is attached to something. It's "Have you got [something that you always forget to do]?" By the same pattern as the rephrasing above, we can read this as

"Do you have [something that you always forget to do]?"

You could actually replace something with anything with largely the same meaning. Essentially, the question could even be rephrased

"Is there anything that you always forget to do?"

And that's how I would probably phrase it formally. However, the "have you got" or "do you have" phrasing is a little more intimate, more about the person.

For example, someone might answer:

"Yes, I always forget to lock the door."

Or keeping some details implicit from the question:

"Yes, to put the cat out."

Of course, the always in question might be hyperbole, rather than literal.

Abstract things that you might say "have you got...?" about that are less prone to grammatical puzzlement...

"Have you got an ambition?"

"Have you got a favourite number?"

"Have you got a degree?"

The question you ask, about to get with abstract things, is simple to answer. Your example complicates things a little, but whatever people might say about the grammar of that sentence otherwise, the object of to get being abstract is absolutely, unquestionably fine.

  • I'm curious to know how you interpret Do you have something that you always forget to do? Whether using got or have (which mean essentially the same thing), it, too, sounds totally wrong to me. Do you interpret it in the sense I suggested of Do you have something in mind? Or do you actually think of it in terms of Do you have a physical object in your possession that you always forget to do? If so, do you further parse it as an elliptical version of Do you have a physical object in your possession that you always forget to do something to? – Jason Bassford Feb 9 at 18:03
  • Perhaps an actual example would be better. Does the following make sense to you? I have a dentist appointment that I always forget to do. To me, that's mostly nonsense—although I can understand what the sentence is attempting to say. How about Do you have a burrito that you always forget to do? – Jason Bassford Feb 9 at 18:08
  • I interpret it as "is there anything that you always forget to do", but with a greater sense of personal-ness. I might answer "yes, I always forget to lock the door". Well, I don't but that's an example. And the always could be hyperbole rather than literal. – SamBC Feb 9 at 18:17
  • Okay, that makes sense. (We agree on the is version!) And I'm guessing the wording sounds better to you in a general question than in either a specific question or in any kind of answer. – Jason Bassford Feb 9 at 18:22
  • I mean, the concrete example of this phrasing that I would point to in a question would be "do you have anything you want to tell me?". It's the same as "is there anything you want to tell me?", but emphasises the personal-ness and the relationship between the speaker and the person they are addressing. I certainly ran into both phrasings a lot as a child... if you don't want that personal-ness, the is version is better, but there are reasons for the have you got version to be better in some cases. The is version is definitely more formal. – SamBC Feb 9 at 18:28

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