HomeQ&AWhat is haber?

What is haber?


Quite simply, what does haber mean? I understand that it means "to have" and that it is used in the perfect tenses, but I have also seen it used to mean "to have" like tener. Why is it different from haber and what does it mean?

updated ABR 10, 2012
posted by josemartinez

3 Answers


This is a great question. I will be brief, but I am hopeful that I will also be clear.

"Haber" is one of those vital infinitives that is under-recognized.

It is the infinitive for "hay" (there is/there are), "habrá" (there will be), "hubo" (there was), "había" (there used to be, etc. In English we would say: "There has to be an answer. In Spanish: "Tiene que haber una respuesta". Or..."there will have to be a lifeguard"..."tendrá que haber guardavidas". The general translation to English is "There...to be"; obviously we would have to use "haber" with another verbal structure because it cannot stand alone.

:Haber" is also the auxiliary infinitive for the perfect tenses, meaning "to have". The difference between "to have" as "tener" and "to have" as "haber" is that "tener" indicates "to have" as in the sense of possession or ownership of something tangible or intangible. For example: "I have 3 sisters" (tengo 3 hermanas)...She must have 3 brothers" (debe tener 3 hermanos)..."we need to have a better plan" (necesitamos tener un mejor plan).

"Haber", on the other hand, merely means "have" as the auxiliary part of a perfect tense; it carries no solid meaning by itself; it is merely a vehicle used to launch you into the rest of the verb and establish that the verb was in the perfect tense. Therefore: "We have talked" (hemos hablado)..."We need to have talked" (necesitamos haber hablado)... "She was hoping to have written" (esperaba haber escrito), etc.

I hope that this has been helpful to you. In a nutshell: "haber" means either "there ...to be" or "to have" in an existential verbal sense. This verb has 2 different sets of conjugations: "haber" - there to be...hay - there is/there are...etc. plus "haber" - to have as an auxiliary verb: he,has,ha,hemos,habéis, han, etc...in a verb conjugated in a perfect tense.

I really hope this has helped. If it has not, feel free to send me a PM and I will try to clarify for you. I love explaining these things!

updated MAY 1, 2012
posted by mountaingirl123

Haber is not easily explained. One thing though is that it is not used in the sense of "to have as in to possess". To have as in to possess is the verb "tener".

Here is a link to another learning site and it's explanation of the uses of the verb haber. Follow this link ----> Using Haber

Haber is often thought of as an auxilliary or helping verb. It is also found in idiomatic uses like "hay" as in there is (exists) or there are (exists).

Tener tends to be the verb used to indicate ownership or posession. It is a whole other class of verb and a whole other study.

updated MAY 1, 2012
edited by Moe
posted by Moe

To have and to hold - haber and tener. But that's not quite allof it. You must always use haber in a compound verb - like "he dicho" (I have spoken) as politicians and others say at the end of a speech but otherwise if you could comfortably say "I keep/hold/suffer from, I must" etc. you can use tener. Alas there are other cases and only familiarity will clarify the usage

Examples - I have (keep) a kangaroo = Tengo un kanguru

  • I have (suffer from) a cold = Tengo (un) resfrio

  • I have to (must) go = Tengo que irme

It is more difficult to construct useful examples of the valid or even mandatory use of haber outside compound verbs but I'll give it some thought and maybe get back to you.

updated ABR 14, 2010
posted by geofc
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