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Published on: Grammar Bites

The uses of the peculiar verb ‘HABER’

Out of all the verbs in the Spanish language, el verbo HABER stands out due to its special uses and conjugation rules. Let’s take a look at this peculiar verb!

1. As main verb: 

Haber expresses the existence of something or someone, and we only conjugate it on the third person singular (él, ella, usted) of every tense (present, past, future…). This is called forma unipersonal:

  • Los domingos hay mucha gente en el supermercado. There are lots of people at the supermarket on Sundays.
  • Anoche hubo un concierto en el estadio. There was a concert at the stadium last night.
  • No creo que haya mucha gente en el musical. I don’t think there will be a big crowd at the musical.
2. As an impersonal verbal phrase:

HAY QUE + INFINITIVO. We use this phrase to indicate an obligation in an impersonal manner; in other words, we’re indicating that something needs to be done, but we’re not saying specifically who needs to do it:

  • Hay que limpiar la casa para el fin de semana. The house must be cleaned by next weekend.
  • Si quieres alcanzar una buena carrera, hay que estudiar. If one wants to have a good career, one must study.
  • Hay que obtener la licencia de conducir a los 16 años. People must get their drivers license at 16.
3. As an auxiliary verb: 

We use haber in compound tenses, such as pretérito perfecto, pretérito pluscuamperfecto de indicativo,  subjuntivo, futuros and condicional. Unlike the previous two uses, when haber acts as an auxilary verb, we must conjugate it according to normal conjugation rules, agreeing in pronoun and number to the subject of the sentence:

  • He trabajado mucho durante esta semana. I’ve worked a lot during this week.
  • Cuando llegamos al cine, la película ya había comenzado. When we arrived to the cinema, the movie had already started.
  • Espero que ellos hayan alcanzado a mirar la función. I hope they‘ve managed to catch the show.
  • ¿A dónde habrán ido los niños? No los veo por ninguna parte. Where have the kids gone to? I don’t see them anywhere.
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