"Drinking coffee" is more common than "having coffee" on Google Books.

"Haven't had coffee" is way more common than "haven't drunk coffee."

"He'd had food" is more common than "he'd eaten food" on Google.

So I think it's more common to use the verb "have" to mean "eat" when it's preceded by another have (except in phrases like "hasn't eaten anything")? Or maybe I'm wrong?

2 Answers 2


That's a very interesting observation.

  1. When it comes to eating, have and eat are typically interchangeable, but only when you're talking about a specific food or drink. For example:

I'm having coffee with Brenda. or I'm drinking coffee with Brenda.

I'm having lunch with Timothy. or I'm eating lunch with Timothy.

However, eat is an intransitive verb and have is transitive. So you can't use have if you're not referring to a specific food. For example, you cannot say:

Let's have! (incorrect)

But you can say:

Let's eat!

  1. Whenever you order food, you always use have. For example:

I'll have the fish.

But never:

I'll eat the fish. (incorrect when ordering)

  1. Have is typically used as a more polite way of talking about eating food. For example:

Want to have dinner with me tonight?

is more polite than:

Want to eat dinner with me tonight?

which is very informal.

Source: Learning English

  • When ordering I think it is more common to say "I would like the fish" or "please bring me the fish" or "I'll take the fish". Although I do agree that one does not normally use "eat" when ordering. I also disagree that "have" is more polite than "eat", in general. Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 14:27

One has to be very careful in using Google Ngrms or Google Books to judge current frequency of use. Republication of older works, and quotes in recent works from older texts can distort the frequencies. And the patterns of use in books may not be the same as in, say newspapers, or in spoken use.

Even more, one should be very reluctant to deduce general rules from a few specific examples of this sort. Usage is notoriously inconsistent, and often does not follow any clear or logical rules. What form is most common may be a matter of historical accident, including the imitation of some popular or well-known text.

What one can say with assurance is that "Drinking coffee" and "having coffee" are both in reasonably common use, and have generally similar meanings. Either might be used by, and would be understood by, a fluent speaker. The same is true for "eating food" and "having food", and for many similar alternates such as "taking a bath" and "having a bath". Which to use is a matter of style and nuance in a particular text.

  • Still, the difference between, say, "hadn't drank coffee" and "hadn't had coffee" is too different on Google. The former has 1,320 results and the latter 358,000. It's hard not to notice a trend. (I've also seen the same trend when making a program search in a private library.)
    – wyc
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 13:17

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