Tener que, Hay que

The Spanish verbs tener que and hay que are used to express obligation or necessity that something be done. Understanding and learning how to correctly use tener que and hay que is essential to becoming fluent in Spanish.

Tener que

Tener que + infinitive is one of the most common ways Spanish speakers express obligation or necessity. Using tener que to express obligation is equivalent to saying "someone has to do something" in English. In the tener que expression, the verb tener is conjugated according to the subject of the sentence. Read and listen to the following examples of tener que, then repeat each out loud.

I have to tell the truth.
Yo tengo que decir la verdad.
The child has to study a lot.
El niño tiene que estudiar mucho.
Do we have to go to school?
¿Tenemos que ir a la escuela?
They have to use the bathroom.
Ellas tienen que usar el baño.

Tener que - Past Tense

Tener que can also be used in the preterite and imperfect past tenses to express obligation that "had to be completed". Read and listen to the following examples, then repeat each out loud.

I had to go to school.
(attended school regularly)
Yo tenía que ir a la escuela.
I had to go to school.
(went to school once)
Yo tuve que ir a la escuela.
They had to tell the truth in court.
(tell the truth once)
Ellos tuvieron que decir la verdad en los tribunales.
They had to tell the truth to their mom.
(always tell the truth)
Ellos tenían que decir la verdad a su mamá.

Hay que

Hay que + infinitive expresses the concept that "one must do something" or that "it is necessary that something is done". Where tener que expresses obligation associated with a specific subject, hay que is more general and does not refer to one specific person or group of people. Read and listen to the following examples, then repeat each out loud.

It is necessary to take the bus to get to the store.
Hay que tomar el autobús para ir a la tienda.
In order to get good grades, one must study a lot.
Para sacar buenas notas, hay que estudiar mucho.


Consider the following two contrasting uses of tener que and hay que.

Juan has to study in order to pass his Spanish test tomorrow.
Juan tiene que estudiar para aprobar el examen de español mañana.
It isn't easy to pass a Spanish test. You have to study a lot.
No es fácil aprobar un examen de español. Hay que estudiar mucho.