Spanish Idioms Using ‘Haber’

Verb common in everyday expressions

Torres de Paine National Park in Chile
¿Cuánto hay de aquí al parque nacional Torres del Paine? (How far is it from here to Torres del Paine National Park?).

Douglas Scortegagna / Creative Commons.

Like many other common verbs, haber is used to form a variety of idioms. As phrases whose meanings don't depend on the literal meanings of the individual words, idioms can be challenging to learn. But they are a necessary part of language, and some of them using haber express everyday concepts and are used often.

In regular usage, haber is either an auxiliary verb or, when in the third person, an impersonal verb meaning "there is" or "there are." When it's part of an idiom, it usually is translated as part of a phrase rather than as a word by itself.

Keep in mind that the conjugation of haber is highly irregular

Haber De With an Infinitive

De is a common preposition using meaning "of" or "from," although it doesn't necessarily have those meanings in these idioms. Haber de followed by an infinitive has two meanings: to be required to do something, and to regard that something is likely but not certain to be true.

  • Hemos de salir a las tres. (We have to leave at 3.)
  • He de viajar a Nueva York. (I am supposed to go to New York.)
  • Ha de ser inteligente. (He must be intelligent.)
  • Había de ser las nueve de la noche. (It must have been 9 p.m.)

Haber Que With an Infinitive

The impersonal form of haber—most often hay in the present indicative tense—has a meaning similar to haber de when used to state a necessary action. It also is followed by an infinitive. The impersonal conjugation is the same as the third-person singular.

  • Hay que comer. (It is necessary to eat.)
  • Hay que votar por Sra. Cortez. (It is necessary to vote for Mrs. Cortez.)
  • Habrá que salir a las tres. (It will be necessary to leave at 3.)

If the context allows, sentences such as these can be translated nonliterally using "we." For example, the meaning of "it is necessary to eat" and "we need to eat" are usually close enough to allow such a substitution when translating "hay que comer."

Other Haber Idioms

Here are the most common other idioms using haber:

  • había una vez or, less frequently, hubo una vez (once upon a time): Había una vez un granjero que tenía una granja muy grande. (Once upon a time there was a farmer with a very large farm.)
  • no haber tal (to be no such thing): No hay tal cosa como un almuerzo gratis. (There's no such thing as a free lunch.)
  • ¡Qué hubo! or ¡Quihúbole!: (Hi! What's happening?)
  • No hay de qué: (Don't mention it. It's not important. No big deal.)
  • habérselas con (to have it out with, to quarrel with): Me las había con mi madre. (I had it out with my mother.)
  • ¿Cuánto hay de ... ? (How far is it from ... ?): ¿Cuánto hay de aquí al parque nacional? (How far is it from here to the national park?)
  • ¿Qué hay? ¿Qué hay de nuevo? (What's happening? What's new?)
  • he aquí (here is, here are) He aquí una lista de nombres. (Here is a list of names.)
  • Heme aquí (Here I am.)
  • He lo aquí. He lo allí. He los aquí. He los allí. (Here it is. There it is. Here they are. There they are.)
  • ¡He dicho! (And that's that!)

Other Phrases Using Haber

Many expressions use hay, although they aren't idiomatic in the sense used here because their meanings can readily be determined though the meanings of the individual words. They aren't always translated word for word, however. A few examples:

  • ¡Eres de lo que no hay! (There's nobody like you!)
  • haber nieve (to be snowy)
  • haber nubes (to be cloudy)
  • haber sol (to be sunny)
  • Hay mucho para hacer. (There's a lot to do.)
  • Hay mucho que + infinitive (There is a lot to + verb)
  • hay veces en que (there are times when)
  • No hay necesidad de + infinitive (There's no need to + verb)
  • tener que haber (There has to be)

Key Takeaways

  • Haber de and haber que can be used to state that an action is necessary.
  • Haber is used in many phrases that can't be translate word for word to English.