My undergraduate textbook builds a case to posit separate classes of verbs as lexical, auxiliary, modal in nature. One criterion is how auxiliary and modals (unlike main verbs) undergo inversion but the sentence "Has he any shame" sounds perfectly grammatical to me.

Any help is much appreciated.

  • 2
    Be, do, have are special.
    – Tomas By
    Dec 24, 2017 at 0:28
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    Inversion of main verb "have" is becoming unusual in American English.
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 24, 2017 at 0:53
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    I would say that main-verb have-inversion in spoken American English has become ungrammatical in the last 50 years. It's mostly recognized from archaic texts like Bah Bah Black Sheep.
    – user6726
    Dec 24, 2017 at 1:40
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    It's not so much ungrammatical as it is archaic, at least in the US. When Robert Welch asked Sen McCarthy whether he had any shame at long last, he used this construction, which was already highly formalized, to make the punch stronger.
    – jlawler
    Dec 24, 2017 at 2:23
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    @jlawler, recall that Joseph (ahem) Welch was born in 1890, well beyond "the last 50 years". I can comprehend currently ungrammatical things written by Shakespeare and Chaucer, which my grammar does not compute. From the POV of individual grammar, it's out, though from the POV of social grammar, "thee" is also in.
    – user6726
    Dec 24, 2017 at 20:37

1 Answer 1


The sentence Has he any shame? is not a productive construction in my American English. If, however, the example is changed to Have you no shame?, then it works perfectly well for me. But in such a case, the sentence is likely frozen, that is, fully lexicalized. That subject-verb inversion is generally not productive with lexical have can be seen by constructing random examples (as suggested by user6726 in the comments):

(1) *Has Frank a car? vs. Does Frank have a car?

(2) *Have they any pets? vs. Do they have any pets?

(3) *Had he an excuse for not helping? vs. Did he have an excuse for not helping?

One can probe for the reasons why certain limited cases of subject-verb inversion with lexical have are, although archaic, still encountered in English. My guess is that the construction hearkens back to a earlier stage of English when the V2 principle (verb second) of Germanic was more robustly present. Note in this regard that modern German forms all such questions with subject-verb inversion of the finite verb, regardless of whether the finite verb is an auxiliary or a lexical verb, e.g. Hast du etwas zu trinken?, lit. 'Have you something to drink?'.

The reason inversion has survived somewhat with lexical have, but not more generally with all standard content verbs, is precisely due to the complete overlap in form of auxiliary have and lexical have. Such overlap exists only with one other verb, namely with do, that is, there is auxiliary do and lexical do. Hence a related question is why there seems to be an absence of archaic cases of subject-verb inversion with lexical do, e.g. * Does he always the work?.

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    The sentence given is quite unremarkable in British English too. “I haven’t any money” is also quite normal. Using do support is more common, but the ‘direct’ usage is still common enough as well, if a bit on the formal side. Apr 29, 2020 at 16:40
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    I agree with @JanusBahsJacquet, and I would say that this is a change in the last fifty years. When I was young, we would use Do you have only in a habitual sense: the normal British form was Have you got, more formally Have you. Do you have . was definitely an Americanism to me. See ngram
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 29, 2020 at 21:57
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet. Your comment is verified by searches I've just done in the BNC. Thanks. However, inversion with an auxiliary (i.e. have you got or do you have) is many times more frequent than inversion without one (i.e. have you). Apr 29, 2020 at 23:37
  • @Colin Fine. Thanks for the link to that ngram search. Very informative! Apr 29, 2020 at 23:39
  • @TimOsborne: while have got can function as the perfect of get, its most common use is different. Have is substantive, not auxiliary. (I'm not sure how to describe got in this construction. I'm sure it mostly a prosodic feature - an extra syllable that can be stessed). So Have you got is a variant of Have you, not something that in any way patterns with Do you have.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 30, 2020 at 8:50

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