In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Obama talked about his daughters growing up in the White House (source):

They've handled it so well, they are just wonderful girls, they are smart and funny, but most importantly they are kind, they don't have an attitude. That was the thing Michelle and I were most worried about when we got there. We thought how is this going to work. We've got these butlers and you've got guys saluting, and it's a testimony to Michelle and my mother-in-law that they have turned out to be just incredible kids.

Which does "you've got guys saluting" here mean?

(1) you've got guys who salute


(2) you've got a situation where guys are saluting

  • 1
    guys saluting = guys who are saluting. The tense can be different depending on the context.
    – Schwale
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 3:11
  • This is using continuous tense to set the atmosphere of a situation. "How is my teaching job? Well...you've got kids screaming, parents complaining and co-workers slacking off all the time."
    – Leo
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 3:40
  • @Leo You mean "you've got a situation where guys are saluting" is what he's saying?
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 3:45
  • 1
    @JK2 I'm not sure what you are asking, to be honest. In your example Obama is saying that in his situation there are butlers and people that salute, which makes it hard to raise his children properly.
    – Leo
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 4:45
  • 1
    @Leo If "Obama is saying that in his situation there are butlers and people that salute," you're saying it means (1), but not (2), aren't you?
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 4:57

6 Answers 6


"Guys saluting" is a description of a situation, not of people. If Mr. Obama wanted to refer to people who salute, he could use "guys who salute" or "saluting guys" instead.

You can compare this to "people shouting", "music playing", "birds singing" - these are all situations. To refer to the people, music, or birds instead, you would reverse the order.

Bottom line, it is (2), not (1).

For a semi-authoritative source, here is a quote from Education First (where you can find more examples):

Present participles can be used after verbs of perception in the pattern verb + object + present participle to indicate the action being perceived.

I consider "you've got" as an informal way of saying "you encounter", which is a verb of perception, so it fits the description above.

  • Thanks. Is it possible for Obama to have said instead, "You've got guys salute"?
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 6:18
  • No. It could be "guys that salute" to "guys who salute" to describe the people. But for a situation, you should use present participle ("-ing"), as described in the link. Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 9:13
  • How about "You had guys salute"? Does it work?
    – JK2
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 4:01

(2) you've got a situation where guys are saluting

People who are in the military usually salute a superior officer.

Mr. President's rank in the military is Commander-in-chief.

It's logical that you would (1)have guys who salute, in a (2)situation where guys are saluting. The general population (civilians) generally don't salute. If you don't have guys who salute, then you don't have a situation where guys salute.

We've got these butlers and you've got guys saluting, and it's a testimony to Michelle and my mother-in-law that they have turned out to be just incredible kids.

Butlers is basically a general reference to the people who support the day-to-day needs of the president and his family.

So what this quote is saying is that despite the fact that there are a lot of people, and security, and military around constantly, that they have still done a good job of raising their kids, for which he gives praise to both his wife and mother-in-law.


I like living in the country. You've got birds chirping, clean air, and no car alarms going off every ten minutes.

This is tantamount to saying, "There are birds chirping" or "one has birds chirping".

The participles "chirping", "going off", indicate a (non-finite) state that exists or an action-in-progress applied as a modifying complement to the noun, expressing what the nouns do.


Mr. Obama is talking about his daughters and how their characters evolved in a good way.

The context is obvious. People thought the worst case scenario about girls' development due to overly relaxed life with butlers and people who salute them (probably bodyguards and soldiers, he is The President of USA fgs). It was nearly natural for girls of that age to become spoiled but in the end, they turned out to be normal/nice. I believe the most accurate description would be the above statement.

If you are specifically asking about the phrase "you've got guys saluting", then my definition to that would be literally "saluting soldiers who do your bidding when you command" or "bodyguards who protect you whereever you go and whatever you do."

Salute generally means "to give a sign of respect to (a military officer, flag, etc.) by moving your right hand to your forehead : to give a salute to (someone or something)"

or "to show respect for (someone or something) : to publicly praise (someone or something)."

In this scope, Mr. & Mrs. Obama worried that many people fussing over them would change their kids and how they see the world.


"You've got" is a casual way of saying "There are".

"There are guys saluting" is in the present continuous - Obama's telling a story, he's painting a picture in words, like I'm dong now. He's saying, "imagine this common scenenario - there are guys saluting...". He's using the present continuous to give immediacy to his narration and get his listeners more involved.


It is 2, the situation.

If you were to say guys who are saluting , you would say "saluting guys", not "guys saluting".

"You've got guys saluting" is tantamount to saying

You've got guys' saluting.

You have to use the possessive case with gerunds if you are explaining the situation, but as it was said in informal manner, the use of possessive case had been ignored.

Consider the following:

I hate kids' running. ---You hate the running of kids'.

I hate running kids. ----You hate kids who run.

Maybe helpful:



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