Posted by: janecronin | March 17, 2019


“Haber” is not a verb for the faint-hearted.  I will do my best to explain it, but hold on tight if you’re not too interested in grammar.  I’ll do my best to include practical examples of its use as well so we can all be happy.  “Haber” is what I call a “grammatical” verb in that its main purpose is to help construct verb tenses, rather than having any, or at least much, independent use.

Before we go to the meaning though, we’d better look at the grammar, because as well as being difficult to define, it is also full of irregularities.  In the present tense it goes like this “he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han”; then in the past simple or preterite tense it does this “hubo, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron”.  These two tenses give rise to irregularities in the subjunctive which are “haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan” in the present and “hubiera, hubieras, hubiera, hubiéramos, hubierais, hubieran” in the imperfect.   Also the future and conditional forms are irregular as the letter “e” is dropped from the infinitive to give us “habré etc” for the future and “habría etc” for the conditional.

So, what exactly does this highly unusual verb actually mean?  Well, first and foremost, it is the equivalent of our verb “have” when we use it to form tenses.  In other words, if I say “I have read the book” that would be “he leído el libro”.  Here the word “have” is indicating that we are talking about some moment in the recent or undetermined past.  In this sense, “have” has nothing to do with the standard meaning of “have” which refers mainly to possession and which in Spanish is “tener”.  Perhaps it would help to contrast the above sentence “He leído el libro” (I have read the book) with “tengo el libro” (I have the book).  The first sentence refers to an activity in the past and the second one refers to something I possess.

Just as in English we can change this use of “have” to make different tenses (I had read the book); (I will have read the book) and so on, so we can use “haber” in the various forms above to create these tense changes in Spanish – “había leído el libro”;  “habré leído el libro”.

Apart from this function, “haber” does stand on its own in various tenses to mean “there is”, “there was/were” “there will be” etc.   In this sense, we only ever use the third person singular form of “haber” so: “hubo muchos problemas” (there were a lot of problems); “habrá seis personas en la clase” (there will be six people in the class).  In the present tense however, instead of “ha” we use “hay” (there is, there are).  Finally, we can follow these forms with “que” to mean “one has to”.  “hay que estudiar mucho” (one has to study a lot).   But don´t worry too much about it!

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