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I get that у меня is the most common pattern for showing ownership of things, say леопарда or самокат. What happens to the meaning were I to use Иметь instead? Does it mean the exact same thing?

(this Q seems to imply Иметь is for abstract things that "have" abstract things, like triangles have sides), so it isn't a dupe question

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These sentences:

  • Я имею леопарда
  • Я имею самокат

are comprehensible but barely grammatical in modern Russian, unless you want to say that you're engaging in an intimate encounter with the leopard or the scooter. In the modern dialect those would be the primary meanings.

Иметь is used in positions which grammatically require a verb and cannot be easily filled with an existential clause.

  • Чего бы ты хотел больше: быть здоровым или иметь много денег?

This one can be replaced with:

  • Чего бы ты хотел больше: быть здоровым или чтобы у тебя было много денег?

but this is more bulky.

  • Имея много денег, легко быть здоровым.

Existential clauses do not form adverbial participles that easily.

  • Будучи приверженцем здорового образа жизни, я имею в собственности самокат

Using the existential clause here would result in a dangling adverbial participle here (describing the scooter, not the narrator).

(this Q seems to imply Иметь is for abstract things that "have" abstract things, like triangles have sides), so it isn't a dupe question

This is not exactly the case. Russian proximity clause distinguishes between state and possession by using or omitting есть. This is somewhat like alienable vs. non-alienable possession found in other languages, though not exactly the same.

Compare:

  • У треугольника три стороны // Triangles are three-sided
  • У людей две руки // People are two-handed
  • У меня бородавки // I'm warty

vs.

  • У прямоугольного треугольника есть катеты и гипотенуза // Right triangles have legs and a hypotenuse
  • У него есть обе руки // He has both hands
  • У меня есть бородавка на пальце // I have a wart on my finger

Used with есть, the clauses imply possession or transient state, used without it, they imply inherence.

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Please note that иметь may have another, indirect meaning: "to have sex with" in spoken language. So, by saying "я имею коня" you may provoke jokes among people.

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  • 1
    In fact this is already stated by Quassnoi in the beginning of the answer.
    – Artemix
    Aug 27 '13 at 10:02
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I'm not a Russian teacher, but as a native-speaker I can say that иметь has meaning closer to 'to own'. Я имею дом ~ I own a house. You use it when you want to emphasize the posessive element, also it sounds more official and unnatural, but grammatically it's 100% right. I would write it in official document. On the contrary, У меня есть дом has a neutral meaning and sounds more colloquial. Hope this was useful.

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    Не знаю, как насчет "официально", но обычно именно плохие переводы с английского часто употребляют слово "иметь". В официальном документе скорее всего будет "Я имею в личной собственности дом", а не "я имею дом". Официальная речь вообще стремится к нагромождению конструкций.
    – Artemix
    Sep 13 '14 at 17:50
  • Согласна, что плохие переводы часто грешат именно конструкциями с "иметь" и "есть". Сама неоднократно поправляла любительские переводы (занимаюсь субтитрами). Насчет имею в собственности - тоже вариант. Но, допустим, имею сестру, имею брата и т.д. вполне официозно звучит и совсем не естественно в устной речи, хотя переводится как раз I have.
    – Anna
    Sep 25 '14 at 18:03
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Nowadays only foreigners use the verb "иметь" (to have) to point ownership out. If you want to sound more like a native speaker, use the verb "быть" (to be) in the 3rd person.

У меня есть леопард.
I've got a leopard.

В детстве у меня был свой автомат Калашникова.
In childhood I had my own Kalashnikov.

As for other senses of "иметь", it means having sex or cheating saying that in a sarcastic way.

Вчера в покер я поимел всех и каждого!
Yesterday playing poker I fucked each and every one of them!

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Actually, when using у меня есть pattern, it is giving a sense that the owned thing is existed or not in that person. However, when using the Иметь verb it is giving a sense that the owned thing is being had (to have actually) by that person.

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  • Can you add some examples? Currently I'm not sure I understand the difference. Do you mean something like "у человека есть ноги", "собака имеет ошейник"?
    – Artemix
    Sep 12 '13 at 11:05
  • Actually, both of them have the same meaning that can be used interchangebly but there is a slightly bit little difference from what I understood at the beginning of my Russian lang studies. E.g. я имею много денег -- I have lots of money (general meaning intending to mean like I am rich) у меня есть много денег -- I have lots of money (at the moment I am with lots of money or there is lots of money with me, by me, at me). у маркета есть продукты(There are products at the market). маркет имеет продукты (The market has products) Sep 12 '13 at 11:48

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