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How many people do you have in your city?

How many people are there in your city?

Is there a grammatical difference? I heard both many times. But once I came across a book, where "do you have" sentence was considered wrong. Don't understand why.

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    Your first sentence is perfectly grammatical, and perfectly understandable, it's just something that native English speakers wouldn't say in normal circumstances. They might say that about public facilities - How many parks/concert halls/pubs do you have in your city?- but not about people.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 9, 2020 at 21:27
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    "Do you have...." would be understood by most listeners but is a little awkward, because it sounds just a little bit like the listener is in charge of the city or somehow was involved with getting the people there. Better: "Are there many people in your city?"
    – BadZen
    Sep 9, 2020 at 21:28
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    Oh, @ColinFine makes a good point and his comment crossed mine in time. I don't know why his example about places sounds correct, and the one with people does not. But he's correct: "Do you have many parks in your city?" is totally natural. Perhaps "<pronoun> + has" prompts us to think about property, and the fact that people cannot be property makes a cognitive dissonance that resolves via the extra connoted meaning I indicate in my first comment.
    – BadZen
    Sep 9, 2020 at 21:29
  • "What is the population of your city?" Sep 9, 2020 at 23:06

1 Answer 1

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This is simpler to explain with statements (or answers) rather than questions.

  • I have a million people in my city.

Unless I’m talking about a game, I don’t “have” those million people in the sense of ownership or possession, so this isn’t right.

  • We have a million people in our city.

This isn’t as bad, but it’s still odd to say those million people have ownership or possession of themselves.

  • You have a million people in your city.

“You” here could be singular or plural, but as in both cases above, neither works.

  • There are a million people in the city.

“There is/are” is used to simply say things exist, without the sense of ownership or possession that “have” brings, so this works well here. Note that is/are agrees with the thing that follows:

  • There is one dog.
  • There are two dogs.

Native speakers think of “there is/are” as a special construction with its own rules (like “hay” in Spanish and “il-y-a” in French), but you could also think of these as being normal grammar that is just said backwards:

  • One dog is there.
  • Two dogs are there.

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