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Hay que + Infinitive: A "Necessary" Construction

Do you know how to say that something "is necessary" in Spanish? Do you like telling people what "has to" be done? We'll teach you a simple formula!

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A Simple Formula

To say something "is necessary" in Spanish, you might use the literal phrase es necesario (it's necessary) plus a verb's infinitive, or "to" form:

 

Es necesario usar papel, carbón o madera para encenderlo.

It's necessary to use paper, charcoal, or wood to light it.

Caption 22, El Aula Azul Adivina qué es - Part 1

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And, to tell someone what they "have to" do, you could use verbs like tener que (to have to) or deber (must) plus the infinitive:

 

Tienes que mejorar esto.

You have to improve this.

Caption 28, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: Hay y estar

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Bueno, primero debemos hacer la lista de invitados 

Well, first, we must make the guest list

Caption 15, Cleer y Carolina Organizando la fiesta del abuelo

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However, if you are looking for a non-literal, conjugation-free alternative (to conjugate just the present indicative tense of tener que, for example, you have to memorize tengo que, tienes que, tiene que, tenemos quetenéis que, and tienen que), we invite you to use the following, very simple formula, which can express the same thing as the previous three options in various contexts:

 

Hay que + infinitive 

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About Hay que + Infinitive 

Don't get us wrong— you are going to have to learn those verb conjugations sooner or later! But, perhaps while you do, or as a viable alternative that native speakers often employ, you could opt for hay que + infinitive.

 

Hay comes from the Spanish verb haber, which is an auxiliary, or helping, verb that means "to have" or "to be" and appears in its conjugated forms as part of different verb tenses (e.g. the present perfect, pluperfect, etc.). Hay is haber's impersonal form, which never changes (it is always just hay in the present tense) and can mean "there is" or "there are." However, when hay is combined with que + infinitive, it becomes a fixed expression that means "it's necessary" (to do something). Let's see a couple of examples:

 

hay que darle la oportunidad de defenderse.

it's necessary to give him the opportunity to defend himself.

Caption 22, Los casos de Yabla Problemas de convivencia - Part 2

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¡Hay que reclamar el premio antes de las diez de la noche!

You have to claim the prize before ten p.m.!

Caption 61, Extr@: Extra en español Ep. 6: El día de la Primitiva - Part 4

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Note that the second example has been translated with "you have to," a more colloquial equivalent of "it's necessary" that includes the "universal you," implying "people" or "everyone." "One has to" or "one must" would also be valid translations. 

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When to Use Hay que + Infinitive 

The construction hay que + infinitive can be used in basically any context in which you want to say that "it's necessary" to do a particular thing. That said, we have included below a few scenarios in which you are likely to come across it. When reading the translations, keep in mind that while this impersonal construction has no specific subject, in cases in which the context or sentence makes clear who the speaker feels "has to" or "must" act in a particular way, the construction is often translated as if the subject were explicitly stated. 

 

General Rules, Truths, or Wisdom

Since the construction hay que + infinitive explains what "people have to do," it only makes sense that it is often heard when talking about perceived wisdom about life:

 

En la vida hay que saber relajarse,

In life, you need to know how to relax,

Caption 44, Ana Teresa 5 principios del yoga

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El pasado hay que olvidarlo, hay que enterrarlo,

The past, you have to forget it, you have to bury it,

Captions 38-39, Yago 2 El puma - Part 1

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Giving Advice 

As we mentioned earlier, you might use the expression hay que + infinitive to tell someone what to do without explicitly saying "you must," as in these two examples from the popular series Confidencial: Asesino al Volante:

 

Yo sé que les dijimos que no vinieran por acá pero hay que darles la buena noticia.

I know we told them not to come here, but we have to give them the good news.

Captions 65-66, Confidencial: Asesino al Volante Capítulo 2 - Part 11

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Hay que demostrar que tú no eres ningún criminal,

You have to show that you're no criminal,

Caption 61, Confidencial: Asesino al Volante Capítulo 3 - Part 10

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In other cases, one might give a suggestion as to what they generally feel that "people" should do:

 

pues, hay que ir a México.

well, you have to go to Mexico.

Caption 32, World Travel Market en Londres Raúl nos habla de México

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Directions

Since giving directions entails explaining what "has to be done," you will often hear the construction hay que + infinitive in this context:

 

Después hay que torcer la primera calle a la izquierda.

Then you have to turn to the left on the first street.

Caption 34, Curso de español Disculpe, ¿hay un cine por aquí?

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Primero hay que ir todo derecho, ¿sí?

First you have to go straight ahead, right?

Caption 23, Curso de español Direcciones en la ciudad

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Instructions

Similarly, hay que + infinitive will often be heard in contexts where specific instructions are given, such as cooking a particular recipe or for some other process:

 

Hay que añadir el agua poco a poco y vamos amasando hasta obtener una mezcla homogénea.

It's necessary to add the water little by little and we start kneading until obtaining a homogeneous mixture.

Captions 11-12, Recetas de cocina Arepas colombianas

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Cuando se bañan, hay que estar seguros de que no se mojen,

When they are bathed, you have to make sure they don't get wet,

Caption 39, La veterinaria "Huesos" visita a la doctora - Part 1

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These are, of course, just a few of the many situations in which you might use or encounter the construction hay que + infinitive. 

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Additional Tenses of Haber que + Infinitive

While haber que + infinitive is probably most commonly seen the present indicative tense, it can also be found in other tenses. Let's see some examples in the imperfect tense , the preterite tense, and the future tense:

 

Definitivamente había que dejar el trabajo para dedicarme al restaurante.

I definitely had to leave my job to dedicate myself to the restaurant.

Caption 13, La Sub30 Familias - Part 9

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hubo que salir corriendo porque la Señora Di Carlo se moría.

we had to leave running because Mrs. Di Carlo was dying.

Caption 84, Muñeca Brava 2 Venganza - Part 6

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En fin, supongo que habrá que esperar hasta el lunes.

Anyway, I guess that it will have to wait until Monday.

Caption 86, Negocios La solicitud de empleo - Part 2

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And remember that, just like for the present, you only have to remember one form of haber for each tense: había que for the imperfect, hubo que for the preterite, and habrá que in the future. Yabla's lesson entitled Había o habían muchos libros? elaborates further. 

 

As you've probably surmised from our plethora of examples, the construction haber que + infinitive is extremely common and useful, and now that you're familiar with it: hay que practicarlo mucho (you have to practice it a lot)! And don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments.

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