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So I can say "I have been playing the guitar since I was 6" but "I have been having a dog since I was 6" sounds incorrect. Why?

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    [Why can't we say or why don't we say] – Lambie Apr 1 '19 at 19:53
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    The right question is not "Why can't we say" etc. because you can say anything you like. The question is what does it mean when I say A or B. – Lambie Apr 1 '19 at 20:01
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Question: So I can say "I have been playing the guitar since I was 6" but "I have been having a dog since I was 6" sounds incorrect. Why?

Answer:

To play a guitar is an activity. It can have started in the past and be going on until now. Active verbs can be used progressively (with "to be" and "-ing").

To have a dog means to own a dog. The verb to "have" in the sense of possess is not usually used in the progressive tenses. It is not an active verb like "play" and does not take a direct object. (Though in some circumstances it is used progressively, let's ignore that for now.) If you want to show the fact your owning a dog began when you were six and is still part of your life, you have to say:

I have had a dog since I was six. (You have to use the present perfect.)

That's the formal answer for you.

(please note: there is an idiom in the English language which is: to have a cow, which means to express the fact you are upset. That can be used progressively: She's pretty angry. She's having a cow.)

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    Your statement "does not take a direct object" is just flat wrong. Have is a transitive verb, which means it has a direct object (in this case "a dog"). – Monty Harder Apr 2 '19 at 17:16
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    Wait. If I say "I have a cat", the cat isn't a direct object? What is it then? – The Photon Apr 2 '19 at 18:48
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ColleenV Apr 3 '19 at 14:26
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    "To have" is transitive. This answer is completely incorrect; it has nothing to do with transtivity. The correct answer is that the incorrect sentence uses the PPC tense incorrectly with a stative verb. – BadZen Nov 29 '19 at 18:21
  • @BadZen to have is not transitive here. If have means own, it is stative, ergo does not take a direct object. These verbs are not used in continuous tenses. – Lambie Dec 3 '19 at 18:35
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Dynamic verbs such as "play", "work", "drink" etc. can express actions in progress, e.g. he is working, he has been working, they are drinking, they have been drinking. The Present Continuous and the Present Perfect Continuous are not normally used with stative verbs such as "be", "have" (possession), "belong", "want", "cost" etc. For a more comprehensive list, see this pdf file.

  1. He has a wife and two children. YES
  2. He is having a wife and two children. NO
  3. They are married. YES
  4. They are being married.NO
  5. He has been married since 2015 YES
  6. He has been being married since 2015 NO
  7. She has played the guitar since she was six. YES
  8. She has been playing the guitar since she was six. YES
  9. I have had a dog since I was six [years old] YES
  10. I have been having a dog since I was six [years old] NO
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  • "He is having a wife and two children. NO" -- Hmm. But you can say "she is having a child," can't you? Why is that different? – JoL Apr 2 '19 at 1:03
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    @JoL Well, "having" has multiple senses; the sentence "he has a wife" uses it in a stative sense, while "she is having a child" uses it in a non-stative sense. – Tanner Swett Apr 2 '19 at 3:26
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    @JoL: To unpack Tanner Swett's reply a bit, the "non-stative sense" of "to have" they're referring to is "to give birth to" (e.g. sense 7 here). So "she is having a child" means "she is giving birth to a child". As for *"he is having a wife and two children", that would be quite anatomically impossible! (And yes, there are other non-stative senses of "to have" as well, but all of them would be either impossible or highly inapproriate in the context of that sentence!) – Ilmari Karonen Apr 2 '19 at 12:20
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    @quetzalcoatl to express near or immediate future: "Are they about/going to be married?" OR "Are they getting married (soon)" are more common and idiomatic. I would use the passive they are being married [by someone] e.g. the pastor/priest/clergyman/judge etc. It's not very commonly used or heard but it's possible. – Mari-Lou A Apr 2 '19 at 13:11
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    @JoL , it is utterly commonplace in English that words can have a number of (utterly) different meanings. – Fattie Apr 2 '19 at 14:54
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Mari-Lou's answer is correct for your context. However there's an important point to be careful of here.

He is having a wife and two children.

As Mari-Lou says, this is incorrect. But...

He is having his wife.

is grammatically correct, and means "he is having sex with his wife". It's rather old-fashioned, but it's perfectly valid English.

He is having a wife.

is less clearly correct, because "a wife" suggests that there could be more than one and you're not being specific about which. It may be correct in the context of a swingers' party though, or a polygamist with multiple wives.

And with that in mind,

I have been having a dog since I was 6.

is also grammatically correct - but it clearly does not mean what you intended it to mean!

Colloquial English has a lot of euphemisms for sex, excretion and other vulgarity. As a result, it's very easy for a non-native speaker to accidentally fall into a double-entendre which is amusing for native English speakers but potentially embarrassing for you. Be warned.

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  • Note that in English, ambiguity, and possible variety of meanings, is absolutely ubiquitous. Answers which utilize "an alternate meaning," to the one meant by the user, or which utilize "an alternative meaning" for "humour"/etc - are (A) utterly useless and (B) add to the overwhelming confusion and total lack of clarity which are the hallmarks of this site. – Fattie Apr 2 '19 at 14:53
  • Then again, “having twins” generally (but not necessarily) means something else. – Konrad Rudolph Apr 2 '19 at 15:40
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    @Fattie (A) You're utterly wrong, because this kind of thing is the difference between "textbook" language and what people will actually meet in the real world. And (B) if you don't like it then you know where the exit is. – Graham Apr 2 '19 at 15:50
  • @Graham Fattie's point is that that meaning of "having" has nothing to do with the question. The question isn't about all the different meanings and nuances of "having", it's a specific scenario. – nasch Apr 2 '19 at 21:42
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Have playing guitar is an action or activity you do.while saying ' I'm having dog is not an activity.'

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The verb "having" implies that you are experiencing, enduring, or undergoing something.

The sentence is grammatically correct, however, the present perfect tense usage coupled with the verb "having" implies that something isn't right. I believe it's because the verb "having" implies that there are factors outside of your control or that you are experiencing . Like: having a heart attack, having a baby, having a bad day, having an epiphany...

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    I'm afraid this makes no sense at all. – TonyK Apr 1 '19 at 20:34
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    On the contrary, I think it's clear and relevant. For example it would be fine to say "I've been having kittens ever since I heard the news." ['Having kittens is, in the UK, a colloquial way of talking about a state of panic.] The point being made by user 342390 is that what makes it OK here, but not in the case of the dog, is that one has no control over it; the state is thrust upon one. – Philip Wood Apr 1 '19 at 22:38
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    I'm having a sandwich, a think, a quick drink, a party,... All of these are under my control. – TonyK Apr 1 '19 at 23:08
  • The first part is definitely something I agree with, not so sure about the "outside of your control" part. "Having is definitely an experiential term. You don't experience the dog, you experience owning the dog. Which is why the usual way to express what OP is saying is "I have owned a dog" – Ruadhan2300 Apr 2 '19 at 8:40

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