‘I’ve got’ a problem?

QUESTION: Jordan, I was a medical transcriptionist for more than 28 years. There is nothing that upsets me more than to hear someone say ,”I’ve got.” An example: “I’ve got 12 teddy bears in my bedroom.” This sounds like, “I have got…” This sounds wrong to me. What is the proper usage here? – Peggy Baker

ANSWER: Thanks for writing in, Peggy. I have an inkling that you may be right on this one.

Before we jump into the whole phrase, let’s examine each verb individually. The verb “have” expresses ownership or obligation: If you have a car, you have to be insured to drive it. In the first instance, “have” is used as a transitive verb, meaning it requires an object. In this case, the object is the car. In the second instance, “have” is used as an auxiliary verb along with the infinitive “to be” to express obligation. It can be used in this manner with all sorts of infinitives: I have to go; I have to eat; I have to brush my teeth.

“Got” is the past tense of the verb “get,” which means to obtain. Since “get” is irregular, “got” is also the past participle of the verb – although in the U.S., we sometimes use “gotten” as the past participle. “Got” can be used as a transitive (“I got my paycheck”), intransitive (“I got into the building”) or auxiliary verb (“I got caught in the act.”).

And so, we’ve arrived at “have got,” which is the present perfect construction of the verb “get.” The present perfect is a compound tense used to describe something that has already happened, but which has lingering effects. The present perfect is formed by combining the verb “have” with the perfect aspect of a verb. In this case, our verb is “get” and the perfect aspect is “got” (British) or “gotten (American). I personally think “gotten” feels a little awkward, but they are both technically correct.

Now, you might be saying, “’I have got to go’ doesn’t sound like a past event.” And you would be correct. Although the construction of “have got” is that of the present perfect, it is almost always used as though it is present or simple present. Additionally, as in the example at the beginning of the article, the “have” is typically contracted, leaving us with “I’ve got” – an irregular, idiomatic expression that, while not formal usage, is frequently used with infinitives to show emphasis in common speech. For example: “I have GOT to go” versus “I have to go.” The transitive use, however, is less forgivable. Saying, “I have got 12 teddy bears,” adds no extra meaning beyond what saying, “I have 12 teddy bears,” would accomplish. And anyway, it’s already 11 more teddy bears than I have.