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This sentence:

I am keeping a pet hamster.

And this sentence:

I keep a pet hamster

Sounds exactly the same to me, any minute difference, if any at all? Thanks!

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    Yes, there is a difference. We would use I keep when the hamster is a permanent member of your household, and the continuous tense for an ongoing but temporary situation - "I am looking after my friend's hamster while he is away". Nov 27 '21 at 12:56
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    I would not use keeping here to mean look after or taking care of. It sounds like a foreigner speaking English.
    – Lambie
    Nov 27 '21 at 16:27
  • @Lambie: You don't keep a dog and bark yourself. I doubt I've ever heard a native speaker say You don't have a dog and bark yourself. Nov 27 '21 at 17:18
  • @FumbleFingers I have no idea what you are on about....My comment was clear.
    – Lambie
    Nov 27 '21 at 17:23
  • @Lambie: Your comment includes both an infinitive and an -ing form (to mean look after or taking care of), so it would be perfectly natural for people to interpret I would not use keeping as implying a restriction on all forms of the verb to keep. But I expect you knew that. Nov 27 '21 at 17:32
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1: I keep a pet hamster

...is slightly "unusual" phrasing (compared to I have a pet hamster), so if it came from a "careful" native speaker it would probably carry some "context-specific" nuance over and above the bare literal sense. Perhaps the speaker is implying ...for the benefit of my mental health1 or something.

2: I am keeping a pet hamster

...is very unusual phrasing. The main thing implied by Present Continuous here is this is a current activity (that doesn't necessarily extend far into the past or future). Perhaps the speaker is temporarily looking after a friend's hamster.


Note that although Simple Present I have a pet is the idiomatic standard here, the keep version is "okay-ish". And we can easily imagine contexts where Present Continuous I am keeping a pet hamster (temporarily, for my friend) is "acceptable", but there's really no credible context where a native speaker would say I am having a pet hamster. That's an "Indian English" shiboleth which should always be avoided.


1 This suggested "reason for using keep rather than have illustrates the more general point. We tend to keep "working/food animals" (security dogs, farm cats, chickens, pigs), whereas we have animals primarily treated as pets/companions.

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  • Great - thanks! Nov 27 '21 at 14:06
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    I think saying "keep" instead of "have" regarding pets specifically (it would definitely be weird for inanimate objects) is a fairly common substitution in English, so wouldn't always be seen as unusual. It might be prevalent in some dialects more than others. Nov 27 '21 at 19:38
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    @Crazymoomin: I'm quite certain the preference for either have or keep (pet or "working" animal) would vary according to specific circumstances. For example, you're more likely to keep a dog for security purposes, and have a cat for companionship and "strokeability". But I'd bet any money that on average farmers are more likely to keep a cat for vermin control. I kinda doubt that "dialectal variation" would be significant here, compared to the extent to which the choice is affected by how much the owner perceives the pet as a "working" animal KEPT FOR A PURPOSE. Nov 28 '21 at 12:51
  • @FumbleFingers I'm not sure it's that clear cut. For small animals I'd say "keep" is more common, especially when there's more than one. So someone keeps chickens or rats, even if they're just pets. Keeping a dog or a cat does seem to be a rarer phrase. Nov 28 '21 at 18:17
  • @Crazymoomin: We must agree to differ. Sure, there will always be some people who don't adhere to the same usage rules as others - probably not as members geographical or socioeconomic "dialect group" in this case, but I dunno. But so far as I'm concerned, someone primarily keeps chickens for their eggs, whereas their children might have rats as pets. Nov 29 '21 at 11:56

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