Never had

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Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky notes

Semifreddo's sweet baguette, which has a big circle on it. The center of the circle says "NO TRANS FATS", and the circle itself says "NEVER HAD" at the top and "NEVER WILL" at the bottom.

No trans fats is a NP conveying something like 'There are no trans fats in this [referring to the food the label is attached to, that is, to Semifreddo's sweet baguettes in general]' or 'This has no trans fats in it'. The other two expressions are subjectless, with a referent supplied from context (once again, Semifreddo's sweet baguette). The point of special interest here is at the other end of these two expressions: had and will with nothing following.

Never will is unproblematic in this context: this is just Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE), with the missing VP complement of the auxiliary will interpreted as 'have any trans fats' (the noany alternation is a side point of interest). But never had presents a little puzzle.

Well, you say, what's missing is the direct object of had, interpreted as 'any trans fats'. Fine. But what allows omission of a direct object when its referent can be supplied from context? There's some literature on "pragmatically controlled zero anaphora" (as Chuck Fillmore termed the phenomenon in a 1986 Berkeley Linguistics Society paper). For direct objects, omissibility depends very much on the verb; find out allows omission (Kim found out can be interpreted in context), while discover does not (*Kim discovered). So maybe the have of possession is just another verb that allows object omission.

Still, Elizabeth and I are not entirely comfortable with the Semifreddo never had — I'd prefer the VPE variant never did — and I'm not entirely comfortable with other instances of object omission with possessive have:

I don't have any money in my pocket now. I never had.
He doesn't have any money in his pocket. He NEVER has.
I have some money in my pocket now. I always have.
She has a lot of work to do. She always has.
Q: Does anyone have an idea? A: I have.

No doubt there are people who find all of these (as well as the VPE variants with forms of do in them) entirely acceptable.

There is, in any case, a sharp contrast between possessive have and verbs with similar and related meanings:

Q: Do you keep your jewels in a safe? A: *I always keep.
Q: Do you own this dog? A: *Yes, I own.

And between possessive have and other uses of have with direct objects:

Q: Do you have a birthday party every year? A: *Yes, I have.
Q: Did she have her baby in August? A: *Yes, she had.

It might be that possessive have with object omission is facilitated by the ability of have to function as an auxiliary verb (as well as a lexical verb) in some varieties of English (British uses with negation, as in I haven't enough tea, and inversion, as in Have you enough tea?). Object omission would then be an extension of another auxiliary property — omissibility of complements, in VPE — to possessive have (treating it as parallel to perfect have, which is straightforwardly an auxiliary). Against this idea is the fact that American English speakers generally do not use possessive have as an auxiliary, but some Americans accept object omission.

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