The Difference of Using Есть and Иметь

In English we use the word ‘have’ or ‘has’ to describe something of ownership, “I have a book”, “He has a car”. What about the Russian language? Maybe some of you have heard the verbs “есть” and “иметь”. Although it looks similar, but there are differences in the use of these two verbs. You can find the answer through the explanation below.


Есть means ‘to eat’. But this verb can also be used to describe the things you have. How to know that this verb is used to describe something you have, not eat? Actually, you can find out by looking at the context of a sentence.

For example:

  • мы будем есть суп.
    (my budem yest’ sup)
    we will eat soup
  • Мы едим куриную лапшу с фрикадельками.
    (My yedim kurinuyu lapshu s frikadel’kami)
    We eat chicken noodles with meatballs

When we use this verb to describe ‘have’:

The formula is У+genitive+nominative

To show ownership, this verb is used in the case of the genitive. Each case has a formula for a noun or an adjectiveЕсть is used in daily conversations whether it is a formal or non-formal situation.

For Example:

  • У меня есть сестра. -> меня (genitive) + сестра (nominative)
    (U menya yest’ sestra)
    I have a sister.
  • У моего друга есть много интересных книг.
    (u moyego druga yest’ mnogo interesnykh knig)
    my friend has many interesting books.
  • У тебя есть домашнее животное?
    (U tebya yest’ domashneye zhivotnoye?)
    Do you have a pet?

In a negative sentence, we use нет which means не + есть . So you no longer need to put the verb есть in the sentence.

For Example:

  • У неё нет зеркала.
    (u neyo net zerkala)
    she does not have a mirror.
  • У меня нет денег.
    (U menya net deneg)
    I don’t have money.


This verb can be defined as ‘to have’. For some situations, иметь can replace есть in a sentence.

For Example:

  • У меня есть дом – Я имею дом
    (U menya yest’ dom) – (Ya imeyu dom)
    both have same meaning  “have a house”.

But for Russians, would sound better the first sentence. Although grammatically it is right. But, when replacing есть, this verb emphasizes something and sounds unnatural. The reason is иметь has slang meaning which sounds a bit rough. So to miss a misunderstanding, this verb is rarely found in conversation.

For example:

  • У каждого врача должна иметь медицинскую лицензию.
    (U kazhdogo vracha dolzhna imet’ meditsinskuyu litsenziyu)
    Every doctor must have a medical license.
  • Cолнце имеет ультрафиолетовое излучение.
    (solntse imeyet ul’trafioletovoye izlucheniye)
    the sun has ultraviolet.

Overall, есть is used in common conversation. Meanwhile иметь that means ‘to possession’ use in formal language, idiom, and scientific language. In addition to these two verbs, there are other verbs in Russian language that have similar meanings but have differences. For examples like Слышать and Слушать, and Видеть and Смотреть. You can also explore for yourself not only about Russian language, but also Russian culture. Have you know the interesting Facts of Russian Matryoshka Dolls? Or 5 most favorite food in Russian during winter season?

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