English Grammar

Did have or had?

Hello everyone!
During the reading of an English novel, I met with a little grammatical problem.
Here is the sentence: “He was not an artist, though he did have a minor talent as an illustrator”.
I was wondering why the author chose to write "did have a minor talent" rather than "had a minor talent”. Is there a precise grammatical reason to write it this way? Is it a way to accentuate the fact of "having a talent"?
Thank you for your help!


  • Hi jicéhen

    I think you're on the right tack.

    I gather the thing with 'did have' in this case I not so easy to explain. It's a subtlety and I'm not a teacher and no grammar expert, but I try nevertheless.

    I think the constellation 'do/did' {verb} is used to contradict a negative assumption or a negative question.

    I don't know if you are German, but in German, the translation for this sentence would be 'Er war kein Künstler, trotzdem hatte er doch ein kleines Talent als Illustrator'. 'He did have' would be 'er hatte doch'.

    The author wants to emphasize that the protagonist had a talent as illustrator, in spite of the fact that he was not an artist. He contradicts the assumption that he had no artistic talent at all, stemming from the statement that he was not an artist.

    The first sentence includes a negative assumption about his talents: He was not an artist, hence we assume he had no artistic talents. The second part is the contradiction, making clear that he did have a little talent: 'he did have a minor talent as illustator'. The conjunction 'though' links the two sentences and introduces the contradiction; 'did have' continues the contradiction and makes the language more elaborate.

    A typical example for preceding 'do/did' a verb is:
    Teacher to school boy: "You didn't do your homework!"
    School boy replies: 'I did do my homework! But I've forgotten my exercise book at home.'

    Another example would be: Housewife to her husband, after they come home prematurely from the theater, because she was worried about whether she turned off the flatiron:

    'Thank God! I thought I had forgotten to switch it off, but I did turn if off'.

    I hope I do not talk bilge here. Maybe somebody else has a real expertise in this matter.

  • Hi Whacky!
    Don't be so modest! You could have been a teacher! A polyglot one, moreover... (By the way, I don't speak German, alas! I’m French, but I'm anxious to tell you that it's not an excuse!) Be that as it may, thanks a lot for these very detailed and useful explanations.
    Many thanks again for your help.
  • You're welcome, Jicé. I hope my explanations were really helpful (and corrrect).

    Yes, I can't help being modest - I can't own up to my extraordinary, preeminent, qualities. I cannot admit that I would be a first-rate teacher.

    I apologize if I my resorting to German made the wrong impression. I could have also tried to translate it into French. But then, we would have to call in a dozen of top-notch French teachers to sort the whole thing out.

    Actually, my French is more than limited. I could say 'Hello' and 'Goodbye', 'Yes' and 'No' and order crêpe in a bistro. And I've seen 'Amelie' twice. That's not enough to survive. I would definitely wind up as 'clochard' at Pont Neuf.

    Before getting stoned to death for having nefarious shortcomings - have a nice evening.

  • Whacky's specific examples of situations that can bring about emphasis are perfect, much more exemplary that could be any "Workbook".

    I do think Whacky is a prominent teacher. ["I do think" just in case some readers couldn't be convinced yet.]

    English has got some tricks to emphasize a statement. Using to do / moving adjectives from their usual place / using a continuous form instead of present simple. As an example here is an excerpt of a speech by Obama:
    "What I am not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone's coverage because of pre-existing conditions."
    'What I am not willing to do' is more stressing than 'What I don't want to do'.
  • Very interesting, Joe.
    Modern languages are made with these subtleties which help to express things nicely. The most difficult is to master them correctly! I'll take due note of that.
    Many thanks to you both. I enjoyed reading you.
  • So did I....

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