English as a Second Language/To be or to have?



Please note the following sentences:

(1) "The boys are medium height."
(2) "Cave homes in Guadix, Spain, are a comfortable temperature day and night."

Actually, I was surprised puzzled by the use of the verb "to be". I expect 'to have' to be used instead.

Could you please give me a guideline?

Best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

ANSWER: Dear Antoine,

In some languages, HAVE is used in some expressions when we use BE in English.

I am two metres tall.
My grandson is seven (years old)
Emma is (of) medium height.
Luke is (of) medium build.
That answer is right/wrong.
I am afraid.
Your father is ashamed of you.
It's warm outside today, but I am cold.
I am hungry/thirsty.
This room is (at) a comfortable temperature.

There is no particular reason for this.

Best wishes,


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I noticed that you inserted "of" for my examples. However, I now understand that it is grammatically wrong to say "Emma has a medium height" and "This room has a comfortable temperature." Right?

Hi, Antoine,

I apologise for my delay in responding. For some reason your follow-up question did not reach me until today.

"Emma is (of) medium height."
"Luke is (of) medium build."

I prefer to use 'of' in such sentences, but it is acceptable not to use it.

"Emma has a medium height" and "This room has a comfortable temperature."

You are right. These two sentences are not correct English.

Best wishes,


English as a Second Language

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Jed Webb


I can assist with questions about English grammar (syntax, morphology, pronunciation and spelling)from learners taking such examinations as TOEFL, IELTS, FCE and CAE and other internationally recognised tests.


I have over forty years of experience in the teaching of modern languages, twenty-four of them in the Teaching of English as a Second Language. I have been an examiner for FCE, BEC and IELTS examinations, and a teacher trainer on courses leading to the Trinity College Certificate in TESOL.

The Philological Society The International Phonetic Association The College of Teachers The International Association of Teachers of EFL The Royal Society of Arts (Fellow)

British Journal of Language Teaching, Vol XIX Nos I and II Education Today, Vol 41, Nos 1 and 3 Co-Author: Nix and Webb (1984) 'Creative English', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Contributor: Nix and Riederer (1973), 'Bottoms Up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Rosenau and Nix, (1979), 'Look it up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Nix and Ringholz, 'English in Projects', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen

BA (English), University of Durham. Qualified Teacher Status, UK Department of Education and Science Further and Adult Education Teacher's Certificate, City and Guilds of London Institute ACP(TESOL), College of Preceptors Dip TESOL, Trinity College, London Dip Ed (ELT), Exeter University ACP (Management Studies in Education), College of Teachers Certificate of Proficiency in the Phonetics of English, International Phonetic Association

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I have taught: General and Business English classes for: Alcan, Allianz Versicherung, Robert Bosch, Daimler-Benz, Ford, Hewlett Packard, Kodak, Mövenpick, Radiomobil (O2), Siemens, Unilever. TOEFL and FCE classes for: eská Spoitelna,SOB, Czech Ministry of Trade, Czech Statistics Office.

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