The Verb "Haber"

Quick Answer

How do you say to be in Spanish? Your response is probably seror estar. That would be a correct answer, but you might not know that there is a third way to say to be in Spanish: haber.

Haber translates as to be or to have depending on whether it is used as an impersonal verb or auxiliary verb.

Conjugating Haber

Haber is a challenging verb to conjugate since it is irregular in the majority of tenses. Click here for the conjugation chart.

Using Haber as an Impersonal Verb

Haber is most commonly used as an impersonal verb to state what exists and to express general obligations.

When using haber as an impersonal verb, only the third person singular form is used.

examples

Hay una flor en el florero.
There's a flower in the vase.

Hay muchas flores en el florero.
There are many flowers in the vase.

Indicating Existence

Haber translates as to be when expressing the existence of a noun. This is pretty simple in the present tense, but it can get a little trickier in the past when deciding between the preterite and imperfect.

  • To state the existence of a noun in the present tense, we use hay, which translates as there is/there are.

  • When stating the existence of a noun in the past tense, we use the preterite or imperfect.

  • We use the preterite conjugation huboto refer to a completed action in the past.

  • We use the imperfect form habíafor descriptions in the past.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how haber is used in a variety of tenses to state the existence of a noun.

examples
Hay dos machos y una hembra.
There are two males and a female.
No hay comida en la casa. Vamos a salir a comer.
There’s no food in the house. Let’s go out to eat.
Hoy hubo un terremoto.
There was an earthquake today.
Una vez, había una niña llamada Alice.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Alice.

Hay Que + Infinitive

Haber is used with que followed by an infinitive to express general obligations regarding what should or must be done.

Let’s put this into practice!

examples
Hay que proteger el medio ambiente.
We must protect the environment.
Hay que ser considerado con los sentimientos de los demás.
You should be considerate of other people’s feelings.

Using Haber as an Auxiliary Verb

Haber is also used as an auxiliary verb, which is a helping verb.

Perfect Tenses

The Spanish perfect tenses are formed by combining a conjugated form of the auxiliary verb haber (to have) with a past participle.

Take a look at how haber is used in all of the Spanish perfect tenses.

examples
Nunca he visto un tiburón.
I’ve never seen a shark.
Ella se había quitado los zapatos cuando entró en mi casa.
She had taken off her shoes before entering my house.
Ya habrán cenado cuando yo llegue.
You will have already eaten dinner when I arrive.
Habría lavado los platos, pero no había jabón.
I would have washed the dishes, but there wasn’t any soap.
Dudo que haya hecho su tarea.
I doubt he has done his homework.
Si hubiera estudiado más, no habría reprobado el examen.
If I had studied more, I wouldn’t have failed the exam.

For a more detailed breakdown of all the perfect tenses, click here.

Haber + De + Infinitive

Haber is used with the preposition defollowed by an infinitive to express what a specific person is obligated to do.

For example:

examples
He de ir al médico.
I have to go to the doctor.
Has de limpiar tu habitación esta noche.
You must clean your room tonight.

Haber with Weather Expressions

Haber conjugated in the third person singular is used in many weather expressions in Spanish. The expressions in the following table are in the present indicative, and describe what the weather is currently like. Using the same expressions, haber can be conjugated in other tenses to say what the weather was like, will be like, etc.

Weather Expression in SpanishMeaning in English
hay neblina
it’s misty/foggy
hay sol
it’s sunny
hay nubes
there are clouds
hay nieve
there’s snow

Additional Expressions

Here are some more useful expressions with haber!

Expression in SpanishMeaning in English
hay gato encerrado
there’s something fishy/something’s up
hay luna
the moon is out
hay mucho que hacer
there’s a lot to do
no hay de qué
don’t mention it
¿Qué hubo?
What’s up?
habérselas con
to have it out with
había una vez
once upon a time
¿Qué hay de nuevo?
What’s new?
¿Qué he de hacer?
What am I to do?
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