06 February 2020

Exactly how to use the Spanish verb "haber"

The verb haber can be tricky for speakers of other languages because it might simply not exist. There are three main uses of the verb haber. If you memorize the rules and the forms, you’ll be able to start using it quickly and easily.

How to use the Spanish verb haber
How to use the Spanish verb haber

What are the main uses of the verb haber?

The verb haber can be used in 3 ways:

  • express the impersonal
  • as an auxiliary verb
  • express obligation

Impersonal use of haber

The verb haber can be used to show the existence of people or things. If you tried to translate this from English it would be something similar to “there is” or “there are”.

Hay mucho polvo en la casa.
There is a lot of dust in the house.

Había muchas personas en el concierto.
There were many people at the concert.

⚠️ It is important to note that when the verb haber is used in this way, it must always be written in the 3rd person singular because there is no subject in the sentence and the verb should never agree in number with the noun.

Correct:
Había muchos extranjeros en la fiesta.
Incorrect:
Habían muchos extranjeros en la fiesta.

Correct:
Hubo dos fiestas ayer.
Incorrect:
Hubieron dos fiestas ayer.

“Haber” as an auxiliary verb

The verb haber can be used as an auxiliary verb to accompany a main verb. This is similar to English where composite verb tenses use the verb “to have”.

Carla ha llamado a su amiga.
Carla has called her friend.

Ella ya había comido cuando la invitaron a cenar.
She had already eaten when they invited her to dinner.

When haber is used as an auxiliary verb, it must always be followed by a past participle.

Yo he caminado.
I have walked.
Nosotros habíamos entendido.
Ella habrá huido.

Haber and obligation

The verb haber can also be used to show obligation (something that must be done) when combined with que and the infinitive:

haber + que + infinitive (impersonal form)

Hay que dar un regalo a tu madre.
You must give a gift to your mom.

Hay que pensar las cosas antes de hacerlas.
You must think about things before doing them.