Master ‘Haber De’ and ‘Haber Que’ in Spanish
Haber de and haber que are common ways to express obligation or the need to do something. They have clear similarities since they’re based on the same verb, but they also have important, nuanced differences. While they both require an infinitive to follow the verb phrase, you’ll see within this lesson that haber de is a bit more formal than haber que.
Knowing how to use these verb phrases is essential for your Spanish fluency and to reaching your goal of sounding like a native speaker!
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What Does Fundéu Say?
According to Fundéu at the Real Academia Española (RAE), whose objective is to “collaborate with the proper use of Spanish in the media and on the Internet,” both haber de and haber que “indicate obligation, but they’re not constructed the same.”
Let’s take a look at Fundéu’s definition:
Ambas indican obligación, pero no se construyen igual. La primera es personal:
He de ir a hacer compras.
I must go shopping.
Has de limpiarte los dientes.
You must brush your teeth.
La segunda es impersonal:
Hay que mirar antes de cruzar la calle.
It’s necessary to look before crossing the street.
As you can see, both verb phrases express obligation or the need to perform a certain task, but they exhibit two differences:
- The usage of personal pronouns (you, he, she, etc.) versus impersonal pronouns (it)
- The grammatical construction
We will tackle both differences in the following explanations of these verb phrases!
In Spanish, haber de has two distinct meanings depending on the context in which it’s used. The two meanings are:
Haber de means “to have to” or “to must,” and refers to some type of obligation or requirement. This verb phrase is conjugated with personal pronouns and followed by an infinitive verb.
Has de llamar a tu abuela en su cumpleaños.
You have to call your grandmother on her birthday.
Él ha de comer menos si quiere adelgazar.
He has to eat less if he wants to lose weight.
He de ir al supermercado.
I need to go to the supermarket.
Hemos de pensar en nuestro futuro.
We have to think about our future.
If you need a refresher on conjugations, check out our Exclusive Beginner’s Guide to Spanish Conjugation.
The second definition of haber de is to express probability. It doesn’t directly translate to English, but close interpretations are “must,” and “supposed to,” in English. It also is followed by an infinitive verb.
Aquí ha de llover seguido.
It must rain often here.
Has de haberte esforzado mucho en tus estudios para tener esas notas.
You must have put a lot of effort into your studies to get that grade.
Has de ser muy feliz.
You must be very happy.
He de viajar a México el próximo mes.
I’m supposed to travel to Mexico next month.
Using Haber de in the Conditional Tense
A third way in which you can use haber de in Spanish is in the conditional tense. It’s most frequent usage is in forming questions and expresses that something doesn’t quite make sense.
¿Por qué habría de hacer eso?
Why would I do that?
¿Qué habían de hacer ellos en esa situación?
What were they to do in that situation?
Out of the two phrases, haber que is the most common. Similar to haber de, it indicates an obligation. However, it doesn’t conjugate with various personal pronouns, instead it exists in its third-person singular form: hay que.
Hay que is the indicative present tense of haber. It indicates that something has to be done, but doesn’t explicitly say who needs to do it.
Hay que ordenar nuestra ropa.
We have to organize our clothes.
No hay que comprar el boleto.
We don’t have to buy the ticket.
¡Hay que votar!
We have to vote!
Hay que ir al hospital.
We have to go to the hospital.
Hay vs Hay que
PRO TIP! Remember that hay on its own means “there is,” while hay que has its own separate meaning.
Here’s an example to understand what I mean:
Hay muchos libros que hay que leer.
There are many books we have to read.
The Many Tenses of Haber que
Hay is not the only form you can use. Haber que is used in other tenses:
Hubo que esperar una hora.
It was necessary to wait an hour.
Nunca pensé que había que decirlo.
I never thought we had to say it.
Esta vez había que ganar.
This time it was necessary to win.
Habrá que esperar el siguiente tren.
We’ll have to wait for the next train.
Habré que presentar delante de todos.
I’ll have to present in front of everyone.
Habría que aclarar las preguntas.
Questions should be clarified in class.
Habrías que comprar los materiales antes de la clase.
You would have to buy the materials before the class.
What about Tener que?
You may be wondering—what is the difference between haber que and tener que?
They both mean the same thing.
When it comes to comparing the verbs haber and tener, the main difference is that haber is used as an auxiliary verb and tener is used as a main verb.
To know more about the difference between haber and tener, check out all the details in Haber vs Tener: Simple Steps to Understand the Differences
Another big difference to note is that tener que is used more often in spoken language.
Tengo que ir a la farmacia.
I have to go to the pharmacy.
Tenemos que entregar la tarea.
We have to turn in the homework.
Tienes que comer más verduras.
You have to eat more veggies.
No tenemos que usar el autobús todos los días.
We don’t have to use the bus every day.
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