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The 5 pronunciations of ‘have’.

Number 3 in our top 5 most difficult one syllable words is ‘have’.

What’s the problem?

It looks simple enough, but hidden under the surface are many potential errors for the unprepared speaker! In fact there are 5 pronunciations of ‘have’ depending on its position, usage and subject:

1. /hæv/
This is the obvious pronunciation of ‘have’, but is in fact only used when it is a content word (main verb), like in ‘I’ll have a shower’, or ‘Do you have any money?’.

2. /həv/
This is ‘have’ when it is an unstressed auxiliary verb at the beginning of a sentence, like in ‘Have you seen the time?’, or ‘Have they finished?”. Ensure the vowel sound is weak schwa /ə/ when pronouncing this.

3. /əv/
This is ‘have’ when it is an unstressed auxiliary verb when not appearing at the beginning, like in ‘What have you done?’ or ‘The police have been here’. Notice that previous word will join onto this syllable as it starts with a vowel.

4. /hæf/
When ‘have’ is a modal obligation verb, it is pronounced with voiceless /f/ instead of /v/ like in ‘I have to go to work’ or ‘Her students have to work harder’.

5. /v/
After the pronouns ‘I’, ‘we’, or ‘they’, have is often contracted to simply /v/ when it is an auxiliary verb, like in ‘I’ve finished’ or ‘They’ve told us already’.

What happens if I get it wrong?

Mispronouncing ‘have’ will not normally cause misunderstanding, but it can stand out as a pronunciation error, most noticeably when Slavic and Latin speakers replace (or add) the sound /χ/ instead of /h/. In order to achieve fluent connected speech it is essential that learners of English master ‘have’ due to its frequency.