Have to and Must - ESL Grammar Lesson Plans

Peter Rutherhagen/Getty Images

Many students often confuse the usage of the modals 'must' and 'have to'. While meaning is generally maintained in incorrect usage in the positive forms, a mix-up in the negative forms can cause confusion. This lesson uses daily routines and an interviewing game to help students master these important modal forms.

Aim: Learn the modal forms 'have to' and 'must'

Activity: Grammar introduction/review, talking about daily routines and interview game

Level: Lower levels


  • Ask students to talk about their daily routines. Have them make a list of five things that they have to do every day.
  • Introduce the grammar by having the students take a look at the grammar sheet below.
  • Discuss the differences between 'have to' and 'must' in the positive form. Make sure to point out that 'have to' is used for daily routines while 'must' is used for strong personal obligation.
  • Discuss the differences between 'don't have to' and 'mustn't'. Make sure to stress the idea that 'don't have to' expresses the idea that the person isn't required to do something but may do so if he/she would like while 'mustn't' expresses the idea of prohibition.
  • In order to encourage students to favor the use of 'have to', spend the rest of the lesson focusing on daily responsibilities in the following exercises.
  • Ask students to take out the list they created earlier and re-write the list using 'have to'.
  • Ask students to choose a job from the list provided (you might want to first check that students are familiar with the jobs listed) and think about what a person working in that profession has to do.
  • Once you have given students a chance to think a while, play a variation on the 20 questions game. You can begin by choosing a profession and having students ask you 10 or 15 questions about what you have to do in this job. Questions can only be answered by 'yes', 'no' or 'sometimes'.
  • The student who guesses the name of your profession should be the next to be asked the 15 questions. Another variation on this game is for students to play the game in pairs.

Have to - Must

Study the Use of 'Have to' and 'Must' in the Chart Below

Must/Have To - Mustn't/Not Have To

Listed below are examples and uses of must/have to/mustn't/not have to

Example Chart

Examples Usage

We have to get up early.
She had to work hard yesterday.
They will have to arrive early.
Does he have to go?

Use 'have to' in the past, present, and future to express responsibility or necessity. NOTE: 'have to' is conjugated as a regular verb and therefore requires an auxiliary verb in the question form or negative.

I must finish this work before I leave.
Must you work so hard?

Use 'must' to express something that you or a person feels is necessary. This form is used only in the present and future.

You don't have to arrive before 8.
They didn't have to work so hard.

The negative form of 'have to' expresses the idea that something is not required. It is, however, possible if so desired.

She mustn't use such horrible language.
Tom. You mustn't play with fire.

The negative form of 'must' expresses the idea that something is prohibited - this form is very different in meaning than the negative of 'have to'!

Did the have to leave so early?

He had to stay overnight in Dallas.

IMPORTANT: The past form of 'have to' and 'must' is 'had to'. 'Must ' does not exist in the past.

Choose a profession from the list below and think about what a person doing that job has to do every day.

Professions and Jobs - What do they have to do?

accountant actor air steward
architect assistant author
baker builder businessman / businesswoman / executive
butcher chef civil servant
clerk computer operator / programmer cook
dentist doctor driver bus / taxi / train driver
garbageman (refuse collector) electrician engineer
farmer hairdresser journalist
judge lawyer manager
musician nurse photographer
pilot plumber police officer
politician receptionist sailor
salesman / saleswoman /salesperson scientist secretary
soldier teacher telephone operator

Back to lessons resource page

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Have to and Must - ESL Grammar Lesson Plans." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/have-to-dont-have-to-must-and-mustnt-1211028. Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Have to and Must - ESL Grammar Lesson Plans. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/have-to-dont-have-to-must-and-mustnt-1211028 Beare, Kenneth. "Have to and Must - ESL Grammar Lesson Plans." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/have-to-dont-have-to-must-and-mustnt-1211028 (accessed June 7, 2023).