Have have have

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Geoff Pullum's recent posting on the sentence

(1) Kansas hasn't had executed anyone since 1965.

has elicited comments going off in several different directions. I'll try to clarify three things, each in one posting. [Correction: actually, I won't, since Geoff Pullum has now appended responses on things two and three within some of the comments.] This one is on the occurrences of (forms of) HAVE in (1). Start by asking what the writer (or editors) at the Wall Street Journal might have been aiming at with (1); what were they trying to say?

Two fixes for (1) have been suggested:

(2) Kansas hasn't had anyone executed since 1965.

(3) Kansas hasn't executed anyone since 1965.

Version (2) is in fact ambiguous, but on neither of its readings is it semantically equivalent to (3). However, in the context of the WSJ story, the difference between the three readings is slight, and (as several commenters suggested) you might just want to go with the simpler (3). But for some sentences that are structurally similar to (2) and (3), the differences are substantial.

Both (2) and (3) have Kansas as the subject, and the has in both of them is an auxiliary ("perfect HAVE"). The had in (2) is the past participle of a main verb HAVE (just as executed in (3) is the past participle of a main verb, EXECUTE); the combination of the perfect auxiliary and a past participle constitutes the perfect construction in English.

Version (3) is a simple active clause (with anyone as the direct object of executed), but (2) is more complex: the clause as a whole isn't passive, but its VP has a passive part; disregarding the auxiliary hasn't and the adverbial since 1965, and making no commitment to further details of constituency, the VP is of the form

V (had) + NP (anyone) + passive VP (executed)

(with the NP understood as the subject of the passive VP, that is, roughly as 'anyone be executed').

Now, the two readings of (2): its VP can denote either a caused situation (with the subject Kansas denoting the agent of causation) or an experienced situation (with the subject Kansas denoting the affected participant) — that is, as, roughly, 'caused anyone to be executed' or 'experienced any executions'. Consider

(2') Big Joe had three competitors murdered this year.

(2") Sioux Falls had three people murdered this year.

(2') is most likely to be understood as causative, (2") as experiential (though the other interpretations are possible, if the context is set up appropriately). Neither is equivalent to a simple active; (in the ordinary-language, rather than legal, use of murder) Big Joe didn't commit the murders in (2') himself, though he did commission them, and Sioux Falls presumably had no hand at all in the murders in (2").

But for (2) and (3) as corrected versions of (1), the differences in understanding aren't especially consequential, and it's not clear what the intended understanding was.

Final note: the causative and experiential constructions aren't confined to VPs with passives in them. V + NP + active VP is also possible, with the NP again understood as the subject of the VP:

(4') I had my research assistant file all the dangling-modifier examples. [most likely causative]

(4") I had people go in and out of the office all morning. [most likely experiential]


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