Meme: Cat Drinking From Coffee Mug with caption 'Don't talk to me until I've had my coffee.'

“My passport” vs. “A passport”

Natural English: “My _____” vs. “A _____”

I was delighted to receive a question from a YouTube subscriber. You can ask questions too, either by leaving a comment in any video, or by click on the Ask a Question link at the top of any page.

Question

I’m kind of sorry to ask you to do this. But I find myself wondering if you could make a video about how to distinguish among some articles. Specifically, I wanna know the difference between ” I have a passport” and ” I have my passport”. Is there any difference between them? Or are they totally used in the same way? Because I kinda know I am being selfish, don’t feel pressured if you cannot do make the video.

My friends, please don’t worry about being selfish when asking questions. I want to answer real questions asked by real people. If you have a question, then it’s probably true that other people are wondering the same thing. Thank you to the author of this question for helping others. 😊

Answer:

In the case of “I have my passport” and “I have a passport”, I should start by saying that both of theses are grammatically correct. However, the meanings are slightly different.

When you say, “I have a passport”, it’s just a fact. There’s no real feeling or emotion attached to it. The meaning of this sentence is, “A passport exists, and it is near me, or it is under my control.”

If you’re speaking in general terms, and someone asks you “Do you have a passport? Yes/No”, then you could just plainly say, “Yes, I have a passport.” That sort of situation isn’t very common in conversation though, is it? 🙂 It’s mostly for forms, questionnaires, or interviews.

But when you say, “I have my passport”, there’s a feeling attached to the passport. Usually, you’re emphasizing a combination of the following ideas:

  • This belongs to me.
  • This is important to me.
  • This is a ritual that happens regularly.

“My” Meaning #1: This Belongs To Me

This is the most basic meaning, that you probably already know. It’s very obvious in some situations, such as when a child is saying “This is my ball.” The meaning is something like, “This ball is not yours. It is mine. I have control over it.”

Here’s a similar example to consider, this time using our example of a passport:

Example 1:
Let’s pretend that you are going to the airport with your mother, so that you can both go on a trip together. (How nice!)

She put down her passport while packing, but can’t remember where. She sees a passport lying on the table and asks you, “Who’s passport is this?”, while pointing to the passport on the table.
In this case, you can answer “I have my passport”, to underline that the passport on the table can’t be yours. So it must be hers.

So, just like the example of child with her own ball, you can differentiate between your passport and another person’s passport by saying, “I have my passport.”
The meaning is: “Because we are two people, there are only two passports. Since I have my passport near me (or under my direct control), then the remaining passport on the table must be yours.”

“My” Meaning #2: This Is Important To Me

Maybe the most common use of “I have my” is to signal that the speaker thinks something is important.
If something is important to you, then you can usually use “my”.

Example 2:
You’re getting ready to leave your house, on your way to the airport. You’re checking that you’ve packed everything you need. You say, “Okay, I have my passport.”.
In this case, you’re emphasizing that you have a passport and that it’s not another person’s passport. It’s yours!

Photo: Woman Packing a Suitcase
‘Packing the Big Red Bag’, by Mark and Allegra Jaroski-Biava , via Flickr

 

You’re emphasizing how important it is that the passport is yours, because it the passport needs to be yours, in order for you to successfully get on a plane. If you accidentally picked up your brother’s passport, then you would not be able to get on the plane, even though you had “a passport”. 🙁 It’s critical that you have your passport.

⚠️ Even if you are living alone, you would probably still say, “I have my passport”. For example, if you were in your apartment where you live alone, packing for a trip, and you were on the phone with your friend. They might ask you, “Did you remember to pack your passport?” and you would reply “Yes, I’ve got my passport!”, as a way to underline that you’re being very careful with your preparations.

Of course, in this case, there’s no chance that you have somebody else’s passport, because you live alone. But still, you say “my passport” to underline how important it is. 🙂

In fact, if you said “I have a passport” in this situation, it would sound like you’re being careless. If your friend heard you say, “I have a passport”, then they might ask, “But it’s yours, right?!? Please check!!” 😅

Oh! That reminds me! In Example 1 above, your mother could say, “If we don’t hurry, we are going to miss our plane!”, because the flight is important to you both.

“My” Meaning #3: This is a Ritual That Happens Regularly.

There’s another interesting use for saying “my” when talking about a noun. My mom always says this. 🙂
I’m going to have my cup of coffee.

Meme: Cat Drinking From Coffee Mug with caption 'Don't talk to me until I've had my coffee.'
Meme: Cat Drinking From Coffee Mug

 

She refers to the coffee she drinks every morning as “her coffee”, because it’s very important that she has a cup of coffee every morning. There’s a ritual here. It’s occurs regularly.
So, she could say “I’m going to have a cup of coffee.” That’s totally correct. But again, there’s no emotion if she says this. It’s just fact.

However, if she says “I’m going to have my cup of coffee.”, I know that having a coffee every morning is important to her. I know it’s part of an important daily ritual. It’s almost an important part of her identity as a person. This is very common for native English speakers to do with food or drink that’s important to them.

Here’s an interesting note: Even if my dad actually made the coffee for her, my mom would still be able to call it “my coffee”. Even if she bought the coffee from Starbucks (like she does every morning), she could call it “my coffee”.

One More Cute Example…

I have to tell you one more example, because I think it’s adorable.

My grandmother loves to watch soap operas on TV. Because this is such an important ritual for her, she says things like, “I need to get home by 1:00pm, to watch my stories.

We don’t often call TV shows “stories” these days, but this is something that people who are 80 years or older sometimes say. Of course, she didn’t write these stories. But, nevertheless, they are her stories. That’s interesting, isn’t it? 🙂

Does This Make Sense?
Do You Have Any Questions?

Please let me know if this doesn’t make sense. Likewise, if you want to test an example sentence or two, please comment, and I can let you know if the sentence is correct.

Sometimes, by doing this, we can learn about exceptions to the rule. You know by now that the English language loves to have exceptions to its rules.

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