‘Hay Que,’ ‘Tener Que,’ and Statements of Necessity in Spanish

Here’s how to say something has to be done

Market in Barranquilla, Colombia
Mi padre tiene que ir a Barranquilla. (My father has to go to Barranquilla.).

Maria Grazia Montagnari / Creative Commons.

If you have to say there's something you have to do or that has to be done, here's how you can do it in Spanish.

Tener Que

Tener que is the phrase for "statements of necessity" that is usually learned first by students of Spanish because it is very common and doesn't require the knowledge of any verb conjugation beyond the forms of tener. Translated as "to have to," it is followed by an infinitive.

  • Tengo que pagar impuestos. (I have to pay taxes.)
  • Mi padre tiene que ir a Barranquilla. (My father has to go to Barranquilla.)
  • Lamentarás brevemente que tuviéramos que separarnos. (You will briefly regret that we had to go our separate ways.)

Hay Que

Another phrase of necessity that is even easier to learn because it doesn't require any conjugation in the present tense is hay que, again followed by an infinitive. Hay is a form of haber, and because it is used as an impersonal verb, it doesn't change with person or thing that has a necessity.

  • Hay que ser muy listo. (It is necessary to be very ready.)
  • ¿Por qué hay que usar códigos? (Why is it necessary to use codes?)
  • ¿Cuánto tiempo hay que trabajar para comprarse un iPhone? (How long do you have to work to buy yourself an iPhone? Literally, how much time is it necessary to work to buy oneself an iPhone?)

Necesitar Que and Es Necesario Que

As might be expected, some other phrases used in statements of necessity are closely related to the word "necessary." One is the impersonal verb necesitar, meaning "to be necessary," which can be followed by que and a verb in the subjunctive mood.

  • Necesito que un experto me contacte. (I need an expert to contact me. A word-for-word translation would be: I need that an expert contact me. Many of the other translations below where the subjunctive is used follow a similar pattern.)
  • Necesitas que alguien te escuche. (You need someone to listen to you.)
  • Solo necesitábamos que pareciera real. (We only needed for it to seem real.)

Similarly, it is possible to use the impersonal phrase es necesario que, which also is followed by a verb in the subjunctive.

  • Es necesario que Europa conserve su herencia. (It is necessary for Europe to retain its heritage.)
  • Es necesario que nos envíen los datos. (It is necessary for them to send us the data.)
  • No era necesario que eso ocurriera. (It wasn't necessary for that to happen.)

Two Es Phrases

Less common than the above is the impersonal phrase es preciso, which also means "it is necessary." (Other tenses can also be used.) It is usually followed by an infinitive, but it also can be followed by que and a subjunctive verb.

  • Es preciso revisar el diseño y la organización del programa. (It is necessary to change the design and organization of the program.)
  • Es preciso que trabajen. (It is necessary for them to work.)
  • Será preciso prestar atención. (It will be necessary to pay attention.)

The impersonal phrase es importante, meaning "it is important," is used in the same way, although it isn't as forceful as es necesario.

  • Es importante saber sobre interoperabilidad. (It is important to know about interoperability.)
  • Es importante que el sitio web esté en español. (It is important that the website be in Spanish.)

Urgir

Finally, to indicate that something is urgently necessary, it is possible to use the impersonal phrase urge que from the verb urgir, again followed by a verb in the subjunctive. An indirect object pronoun can be used before urgir to indicate who finds the action necessary.

  • Urge que X'cacel sea declarada como reserva natural protegida. (It is urgent that X'cacel be declared a natural protected reserve.)
  • Me urge que todo el mundo lo lea. (It is urgent to me that everybody read it.)
  • Les urgió que no dijeran la verdad. (It was urgent to them that they not tell the truth.)

The verb urgir can also stand alone as a verb to mean "to be urgently needed."

  • Urge atención inmediata el caso de los asesinatos de mujeres en Ciudad Juárez. The case of women murdered in Cuidad Juarez urgently needs attention.)
  • Me urge ayuda sobre los siguientes terminales. (I urgently need help with the following terms.)

Key Takeaways

  • The most common phrase used in stating that an action is necessary is tener que, usually translated as "to have to."
  • Phrases that can mean "it is necessary" include es necesario and es preciso.
  • The verb urgir is used for "to be urgent."