Haber: To Have or to Be?
This verb should be familiar to you—it is the auxiliary verb “to have” that you've been introduced to when learning about the present perfect tense.
1. Ask questions characterized by existence:
2. State the existence of something:
3. State a broad “impersonal” obligation (lacking a specific subject, sometimes translated into English as “one”) in the form of hay + que + infinitive:
There are two important distinctions to be made regarding hay and other verbs with similar uses. First, there is a tendency to confuse hay with forms of estar. It is best to distinguish them by noting that whereas estar expresses the position or location of someone or something, hay refers to that someone's or something's very existence. Compare:
Second, there is also a tendency to confuse hay with tener within a tener que + infinitive phrase. Remember that while both expressions express an obligation, tener que … has a specific subject (and tener is conjugated according to that subject), whereas the hay que … construction expresses an obligation not specifically assigned to a particular individual. Compare:
Other Uses and Applications of Haber
As an auxiliary verb, haber plays an important role in forming compound tenses. Though these tenses are really beyond the scope of this book, here's a short preview of what to expect.
When it comes to verb tenses, recall that a completed action is described as being “perfect.” This being the case, you will often find a form of haber helping the past participle of a verb achieve this completion. You've already seen this occur in the present perfect, where haber is conjugated in the present tense to bring the completed action of a recent past into closer focus by means of the present. For example:
In the past perfect (or pluperfect) tense, the past participle remains, but haber is conjugated in the imperfect.
Haber Conjugated in the Imperfect Tense
The key to understanding this tense is the use of “had” in its translation. The focus on completed action is now shifted from the present back to the past. For example:
Similarly, haber also appears in the future perfect tense.
Haber in the Future Perfect Tense
This compound tense is used in two situations:
1. To describe an action as something that “will have” occurred by a deadline of sorts:
2. To describe an action as something that “must have” occurred, though there is a very slight chance that it hasn't:
The last compound tense in the indicative mood is the conditional perfect. This tense is the hardest to grasp because the focus of the completed action is not a single point in time but a continuum. See the following table for conditional-tense conjugations of haber.
Haber Conjugated in Conditional Perfect Tense
There are four uses for the conditional perfect. They include:
1. Expressing a future action sandwiched between two events:
2. Expressing an action that failed because of some hindrance:
3. Expressing an expansive past probability, allowing for conjecture or approximation. Looking at a situation may assist in getting a better handle on this use. If someone were to ask, “Why is Tom not in his office?” one possible response is, “He must have become ill” (the future perfect). But if the question was posed as a past event, “Why was Tom not in his office?” a possible response to this query is, “He must have been ill” (conditional perfect; se habría enfermado). Remember: Both responses express probabilities, but the former forms a conjecture that begins in the future, and the latter forms one rooted in the past.