Spanish Verb ‘Haber’ – Easy Guide For Beginners

HABER is one of the most common verbs in Spanish grammar and you should learn it right from the A1 level. Here’s a list of its main uses:

  • Haber” in Spanish – in its impersonal form “HAY” can be an equivalent of the English expression “There is / There are”. 
  • You can also use the impersonal version of “haber” – “HAY QUE” – to talk about things that need to be done, without mentioning who should do them.
  • Haber” is also a popular auxiliary verb in Spanish, used with Pretérito Perfecto.

Let’s discuss all these possibilities in more detail. 

Spanish Verb “Haber” As a Synonym of There Is / There Are

Have you ever seen or heard the word “hay” in Spanish?

I am quite sure you have. It is immensely popular, especially in spoken, everyday language. 

You might have not realized, but it actually derives from the verb “haber” and is its impersonal present form. 


Yes, I knew this word will draw your attention. 

Impersonal”, grammatically speaking, refers to a verb conjugation form that requires no subject. 

When you use “hay” you are simply saying “there is” or “there are”. 

That’s right. “Hay” in Spanish applies both to singular and plural ideas, just like in the examples below:

🇪🇸 Hay un problema con su vuelo, señor.
🇬🇧 There is a problem with your flight, sir. 

🇪🇸 Hay solo cinco sillas y tenemos seis invitados.
🇬🇧 There are only five chairs and we have six guests.

🇪🇸 ¿Hay un baño por aquí?
🇬🇧 Is there a restroom here?

🇪🇸 Hay mucho ruido. Parece que los vecinos tienen una fiesta.
🇬🇧 There is a lot of noise. It looks like the neighbors are having a party. 

🇪🇸 ¡Hola! ¿Hay alguien en casa?
🇬🇧 Hello! ¿Anybody home?

Of course, you can also use the verb HABER in the past and in the future tenses.

Verbal TenseThe Impersonal Form of “HABER”
Presente de Indicativohay – there is / there are
Pretérito Indefinidohubo  there was / there were
Pretérito Imperfectohabía
Futuro Simplehabrá

The sentences below will give you ideas of how to use this verb:

🇪🇸 Anoche hubo una tormenta.
🇬🇧 There was a storm last night.

🇪🇸 En mi colegio había un laboratorio químico bien equipado.
🇬🇧 In my school, there was a well-equipped chemical laboratory. 

🇪🇸 ¿Habrá algo para comer en la casa de la abuela?
🇬🇧 Is there going to be something to eat at grandma’s?

In case you are not sure about the difference between Pasado Indefinido and Pasado Imperfecto in Spanish, or how to form the Future Simple Tense, feel free to use my other grammar posts for reference. 

Using The Verb “Haber” to Talk About Obligations And Necessities in Spanish

Another interesting use of the verb “haber” is to express things that need to be done. 

Of course, you can always stick to “deber” – must or have to,  “debería” – should, or “necesitar” – need, but they all require you to indicate the subject, e.g.:

🇪🇸 (Tú) Debes comprar pan. 
🇬🇧 You have to buy bread. 

🇪🇸 Alex debería dejar de fumar. 
🇬🇧 Alex should quit smoking. 

🇪🇸 Test Your Spanish Knowledge 🇪🇸

🇪🇸 (Nosotros) necesitamos urgentemente comprar una lavadora nueva. 
🇬🇧 We urgently need to buy a new washing machine. 

(Note that personal pronouns such as yo, tú, él, ella, etc are not always used in sentences. By conjugating verbs and adjusting their form, you convey the information about the personal pronoun implicitly).

Using HAY+QUE to Talk About Things That Need to Be Done

However, in situations when you are not sure who is – or should be – in charge of a certain action, once again you can refer to the good, old  “HAY”. 

This time you’ll have to pair it up with the word “QUE”. 

Here’s how you can express impersonal obligations with the Spanish “HAY QUE”

🇪🇸 Hay que comprar más leche. Se nos está acabando.
🇬🇧 It’s necessary to buy more milk. We’re running out.

🇪🇸 ¿Sabes qué materiales hay que traer para la clase de tecnología?
🇬🇧 Do you know what materials are needed for the technology class?

🇪🇸 Para usar este descuento hay que pagar con la tarjeta de crédito. 
🇬🇧 It’s necessary to pay with a credit card if you want to use this discount. 

🇪🇸 Hay que tener mucho cuidado cuando uno camina por este barrio. Es muy peligroso. 
🇬🇧 One has to be very careful when walking through this neighborhood. It is very dangerous. 

Of course, similar obligations or necessities can be expressed with the past or future form of the impersonal HABER:

🇪🇸 Antes de que se construyera el puente, había que cruzar el río en bote. 
🇬🇧 Before the bridge was built, one had to cross the river by boat. 

🇪🇸 Habrá que investigar este tema en más detalle. 
🇬🇧 It will be necessary to investigate this issue in more detail. 

🇪🇸 Hubo que repetir la prueba porque algunas preguntas tenían errores. 
🇬🇧 The test had to be repeated because some questions had mistakes. 

“Haber” As A Spanish Auxiliary Verb

If you are familiar with Préterito Perfecto (a Spanish grammar tense equivalent to Present Perfect), you’ll know that the verb “HABER” forms an integral part of that structure. 

Have  a look:

🇪🇸 He tenido un mal día.
🇬🇧 I’ve had a bad day. 

🇪🇸 ¿Has hecho algo interesante hoy?
🇬🇧 Have you done something interesting today?

🇪🇸 María y Juan aún no han terminado la prueba. 
🇬🇧 María and Juan haven’t finished the test yet. 

🇪🇸 Hemos venido muchas veces a este lugar. 
🇬🇧 We’ve come to this place many times. 

🇪🇸 ¿Dónde habéis comprado estas flores tan hermosas?
🇬🇧 Where have you (plural) bought such beautiful flowers? 

All the elements marked in red are a representation of the same verb “HABER” conjugated in the present tense. 

How to Conjugate The Verb “Haber” in Present

Conjugation tables are something you cannot escape from when you study Spanish as a second language. What does the present conjugation of the verb “haber” look like? 

Here it is:

yo he
tú has
él, ella, usted ha
nosotros hemos
vosotros habéis
ellos, ellas, ustedes han

Remember, every time you want to talk or ask in Spanish about somebody having done something, or something having happened, “haber” is your verb of choice. 

🇪🇸 ¿Has terminado, Joanna?
🇬🇧 Have you finished, Joanna?

🇪🇸 Si, he terminado. 
🇬🇧 Yes, I have. 

Goodbye and talk to you soon. 

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Joanna Lupa
Joanna Lupa
Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.

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