English English language Etymology Expression Usage Word origin Writing

When ‘to have’ is ‘to allow’

Q: What does “have” mean in “I won’t have you stay out all night”? I understand the sentence, but I can’t figure out what “have” is doing there. The usage sounds contemporary to me, but you’ll probably tell me that Alfred the Great coined it.

A: The verb “have” in your example means “to allow or tolerate,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, so that sentence is another way of saying, “I can’t allow you to stay out all night.”

The expression “won’t (or can’t) have someone do something” is usually followed by a present participle (“I won’t have you working all night”), a bare, “to”-less infinitive (“I can’t have you work till all hours”), or a past participle (“I won’t have you worked to death”).

The usage may sound contemporary, but it does indeed date back to Anglo-Saxon times, though as far we know King Ælfred didn’t coin it.

The earliest recorded example in the OED is from an Old English version of The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, a legend about a man who falls asleep and wakes up years later to find the world changed:

“Ælmihtig God … hine þa na lengc ahwænedne habban nolde” (“Almighty God … then would not have him afflicted any longer”).

And here’s an example from The Book of the Knight of the Tower (1484), William Caxton’s Middle English translation of a 14th-century French guide to proper behavior for medieval women, by Geoffrey de la Tour-Landry:

“Ye ben moche beholdynge to god, and to his swete moder, whiche wylle not haue yow dampned” (“You are much beholden to God, and his sweet mother, who will not have you damned”).

This example is from the Coverdale Bible of 1535: “I will not haue the to be afrayd of them” (“I will not have thee be afraid of them”).

The latest example in the OED is from The Boy in the Moon, a 1997 novel by Kate O’Riordan: “I won’t have your father drinking from his saucer like he does, do you hear me?”

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