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We could have told you - Verb haber in Spanish

We could have told you - Verb haber in Spanish

Most Spanish students are very familiar with the verb ‘haber’ in its present impersonal form ‘hay’, but many tend to forget — or simply don’t know — its infinitive form. Here is where many misunderstandings and mistakes start to emerge as sometimes ‘haber’ needs to be used in infinitive with other verbs. If you translate ‘haber’ online, you will get “to have” as a result, which is not entirely true. It is important to divide the uses of ‘haber’ into two categories: an impersonal verb and an auxiliary verb. Let’s dive into these two categories separately.

Haber’ as an impersonal verb

First, we need to translate this verb correctly. It is highly recommended to translate it as “there be”, indicating the existence of something. It is also worth it to remember that as an impersonal verb, ‘haber’ will have only one conjugation in each tense: hay - there is/are,hubo - there was/werehabía - there was/were. Here are some examples to expand on this.



There is/are

Hay muchas personas en la fiesta.

There are many people at the party.

No hay vino en el bar.

There is no wine at the bar.

Preterit (Indicates the existence of determined past events)


There was/were

Hubo una fiesta en mi cuadra la semana pasada.

There was a party on my block last week.

Hubo tres terremotos en Ecuador en 2016.

There were three earthquakes in Ecuador in 2016.

Imperfect (Provides a description in the past)


There was/were

Había un hombre en la casa.

There was a man in the house.

Había tres gatos en el cuarto

There were three cats in the room.


Note that the word ‘there’ is included in this verb. This information is crucial when using this verb in a two verb construction. Let’s see some examples:

Tiene que haber una solución - Therehas tobe a solution

Debe haber dinero en la cuenta - There must be money in the account

It is important to mention that the verbs have to be in their singular form when used in verbal periphrasis —the two verb construction —. Here are some examples:

Debería haber más personas en la conferencia

There should be more people at the conference

Puede haber problemas en el proyecto

There can be problems in the projectNote: Many people commonly make the mistake of using this verbal periphrasis in plural, but that would be incorrect. For example:

Deberían haber más personas” is incorrect.

Haber’ as an auxiliary verb

‘Haber’ is used in Spanish as the main auxiliary verb to set compound tenses, and in these cases ‘haber’ is taking the role of the verb “to have” in English. Let’s see some examples:

El pretérito perfecto compuesto

Present perfect


yo he

tú has

usted ha

él ha

ella ha

nosotros hemos

vosotros habéis

ustedes han

ellos han

ellas han


(Yo) he estado en Europa tres veces.

I have been in Europe three times.

Ellas no han leído ese libro todavía.

They haven’t read that book yet.

Hemos vivido en NY por 10 años.

We have lived in NY for 10 years.

There will be some cases of verbal periphrasis in this tense in which the verb 'haber' will be in infinitive. For example:

Sara debe haber olvidado la cita porque aún no ha llegado.

Sarah must have forgotten the appointment because she hasn’t arrived yet.

Pudimos haber sido más simpáticos anoche, pero estábamos muy cansados.

We could have been nicer last night, but we were very tired.

Since we are talking about ‘haber’ in compound tenses, it is valuable to mention that 'haber' can have object pronouns linked to it as any other infinite verb. Let’s dive a little deeper here:

Sara no ha visto a sus hermanas hace mucho tiempo, pero las ha llamado constantemente.

Sarah has not seen her sister for a long time, but she has called them constantly.

In the example above, there is only one option as the verb ‘haber’ cannot accept an object pronoun linked to it since it is conjugated, and the past participle never works with an added object pronoun either.

Now let’s consider a couple of examples where the verb 'haber' appears in infinitive. In the case, it works well with object pronouns added to its last syllable.

Úrsula tiene muchos recuerdos malos de su juventud. Ella podría haberlos olvidado, pero prefiere recordarlos porque cree que la hacen más fuerte.

Ursula has many bad memories from her youth. She could have forgotten them, but she prefers remembering them because she thinks they make her stronger.

Eduardo sabía la verdad sobre el pasado del prometido de Mónica y habría podido habérsela dicho, pero decidió no hacerlo para evitarle un ataque del corazón.

Edward knew the truth about the past of Monica’s fiancé, and he could have told her about it. But he decided to not do it in order to avoid a heart attack for her.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that 'haber’ works in infinitive form when used along with 'gustar' expressing the liked action. Here are a couple examples:

No me gustó haberte gritado anoche, pero a veces es la única manera que me pones atención.

I didn’t like having yelled at you last night, but it is sometimes the only way in which you listen to me. (Or pay attention to me -literally)

Nos gustó haberles enseñado el nuevo sistema operativo.

We liked having taught you the new operating system.

I hope this expanded your knowledge in a clear way about ‘haber’!

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