Table of contents Chapter 20 20.8 hay que (impersonal to have to)

Chapter 20: Modal verbs (Auxiliaries)

  20.8 hay que (impersonal to have to)

If the subject of the sentence is not defined - impersonal - the Spanish uses the passive (as discussed in chapter 8). In English it's then the impersonal you or one:

You have to be quite sure before you get married.
One has to be quite sure before getting married.

To express these kind of general clauses the Spanish uses hay que. Se tiene que could be used as well, but our Google-Test showed the following results:


Se tiene que gives 4,030 hits.
Hay que gives 394,000 hits.


Si hace calor, hay que ir a la piscina.
= If it's hot one has to go to the swimming pool.
Hay que hacer lo que dice, porque si no se pone colérico.
= You have to / one has to do what he says, because if not, he gets choleric.
Este libro, hay que leerlo cuidadosamente, es bastante difícil.
= This book is to be read carefully it's quite difficult.
Hay que ir a su casa para saber como está.
= You have to go to his house to know how he is doing.

Hay que is only used in the third person singular. It's a left over of the time when haber was a full verb and had the meaning of to have to (see chapter 7.1.). It can be also used in past tense.


Había que trabajar mucho. = One had to work a lot.
Hubo que decirselo, pero nadie se lo quería decir. = One had to tell him, but nobody wanted to tell him.
Habrá que decirle que lo deje. = One will have to tell him that he lets it be.

For information of imperfecto, plusquamperfecto and indefinido see chapter 6.