Using the Verb 'Haber'

Spanish for Beginners

girl jumping for Spanish lesson on haber
¿Hay que saltar? (Is it necessary to jump?). Laura Natividad/Getty Images

Haber is one of the most common verbs in Spanish, used most of the time as an auxiliary or helping verb. Although haber is similar in form to "have" and is often translated that way, it is unrelated to the English verb.

Haber has three main uses:

Haber as an Auxiliary Verb in Compound Tenses

When used an auxiliary verb, haber is the equivalent of the English auxiliary "to have" (which is much different than the English "to have" when it means "to possess").

Haber is used to form what are known as the perfect tenses because they refer to actions that have been or will be completed. ("Completed" used to be a common meaning of "perfect.") As in English, the perfect tenses are formed by following a form of haber with a past participle.

  • He comprado un coche. (I have bought a car.)
  • ¿Has estudiado? (Have you studied?)
  • Han salido. (They have left.)
  • Habrá salido. (She will have left.)
  • Habría hablado. (I would have spoken.)

In English, it is very common to insert an adverb or other word between the two parts of a compound verb, such as in the sentence "he has always gone." But in Spanish (except perhaps in poetry), the two verb parts aren't separated.

As a beginner, you don't need to learn all the tenses using haber now, but you should be able to recognize haber when it is used. You should also be aware that while the perfect tenses in Spanish and English are quite similar in form, they aren't always used in exactly the same way.

Haber for 'There Is" or 'There Are'

One peculiarity of haber is that it has a unique conjugated form, hay (pronounced basically the same as the English "eye") that means "there is" or "there are."

  • Hay una silla en la cocina. (There is one chair in the kitchen.)
  • Hay dos sillas en la cocina. (There are two chairs in the kitchen.)

    Note that in the above examples, the English "there" isn't referring to location, but to mere existence. The most common word for "there" in terms of location is allí. Example: Hay una silla allí. There is a chair there.

    Haber can be used in this way in tenses other than the present, although not as commonly. In formal Spanish, as in the second example above, the singular form of the verb is used even when it refers to more than one person or thing.

    Haber in Idioms

    Haber can be used in a number of idioms, which are phrases that have a meaning apart from the meanings of the words in them. The one you'll run into most often as a beginner is haber que, which means "to be necessary" when followed by an infinitive. When used this way in the present tense, the hay form of haber is used.

    • Hay que saltar. (It is necessary to jump.)
    • Hay que conocerlo para comprenderlo. (It is necessary to know him in order to understand him.)
    • Habrá que salir a las dos. (It will be necessary to leave at 2 o'clock.)

    Conjugating Haber

    As is the case with most other common verbs, haber is conjugated irregularly. Here is the conjugation for its present indicative tense, the one used most often.

    yo (I)heI have
    (informal singular you)hasyou have
    usted (formal singular you), él (he), ella (she)ha (sometimes hay)you have, he has, she has
    nosotros, nosotras (we)hemoswe have
    vosotros, vosotras (informal plural you)habéisyou have
    ustedes (formal plural you), ellos, ellas (they)han (sometimes hay) you have, they have