This post is about the practical use of impersonal verbs in general and more particularly the verb “haber” when used in expressions of need.
Imagine you are talking to a relative, a friend or a colleague. You appear to be in a situation in which one ore more things must be done. The other person is trying to establish what has to be done and says to you something like: "tell me, what needs to be done?".
In Spanish, the other person could choose to be less formal and say:
Dime, ¿qué hay que hacer?
On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say:
Dígame, ¿qué hay que hacer?
The question is an invitation for you to say what needs to be done. When stating what needs to be done, you may need to consider different levels of formality in your reply. This would be specifically if you were to indicate who needs to do it**. However, the question is asked in an 'impersonal' way which is not concerned with identifying who needs to do things. For that reason, answers could be formulated in a similarly 'impersonal' way.
Here are some examples of how you could reply:
- Hay que* hacer muchas cosas (there are lots of things to do);
- No hay que* hacer nada (there is nothing to do);
- Hay que* hacer la compra (the shopping must be done);
- Hay que* conducir con precaución (careful driving is what is needed);
Now you should practise replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿qué hay que hacer?
*Please see grammar topic below, impersonal verbs - “haber” (What Needs To Be Done)
** See also post on the INFINITIVE (haber de....)
We refer here to verbs which normally do not have a subject. In English these verbs are usually preceded by the pronoun “it”, as in “it rains”. It should be noted that the English pronoun “it” does not refer to anything and should not be translated into Spanish, where only the 3rd person singular should be used.
On the subject of impersonal verbs, some discreet groups of verbs come to mind. These are:
In this group we include verbs used in the context of describing weather conditions. We refer to verbs such as:
- Llover (to rain);
- Nevar (to snow);
- Helar (to freeze/ to be frosty);
- Tronar (to thunder);
- Relampaguear (to lighten);
Some examples of the use of these impersonal verbs are:
- Llueve (it rains);
- Nieva (it snows);
- Hiela (it is frosty/ it freezes);
- Truena (there is thunder);
- Relampaguea (there is lightening);
- Llovió (it rained);
- Nevó (it snowed);
- Heló (it was frosty/ it froze);
- Tronó (there was thunder);
- Relampagueó (there was lightening);
- Va a llover (it is going to rain);
- Va a nevar (it is going to snow);
The Spanish verb “hacer” is often used as an impersonal verb in weather expressions/ to describe the weather.
Some examples of the use of “hacer” as an impersonal verb in weather expressions are:
- Hace calor (it is hot);
- Hace frío (it is cold);
- Hace sol (it is sunny);
- Hace viento (it is windy);
- Hizo calor (it was hot);
- Hizo frío (it was cold);
- Hizo sol (it was sunny);
- Hizo viento (it was windy);
- Hacía calor (it was hot);
- Hacía frío (it was cold);
- Hacía sol (it was sunny);
- Hacía viento (it was windy);
- Va a hacer frío (it is going to be cold);
- Va a hacer sol (it is going to be sunny);
The Spanish verb “hacer” is often used as an impersonal verb in time expressions. When used in this way, two types of expressions with slightly different meanings should be considered:
- Expressions which indicate how 'long ago' something happened. Some examples of this type of time expressions are:
- Hace dos años estuve en Madrid (I was in Madrid two years ago);
- Llegamos hace sólo una hora (we arrived just one hour ago);
- Hacía dos años había estado en Madrid (I had been in Madrid two years before);
- Habíamos llegado hacía sólo una hora (we had arrived just one hour before);
- Expressions which indicate the duration of an activity. In this type of expressions, “hace” is preceded by “desde”. Some examples of this type of time expressions are:
- Estudio español desde hace* dos años (I have been studying Spanish for these last two years);
- Estoy en casa desde hace* una hora (I have been at home for the last hour);
- Estudiaba español desde hacía dos años (I had been studying Spanish for the previous two years);
- Estaba en casa desde hacía una hora (I had been at home for the previous hour);
The Spanish verb “haber” is also often used as an impersonal verb in weather expressions.
Some examples of the use of “haber” as an impersonal verb in weather expressions are:
- Hay helada (it is frosty);
- Hay niebla (it is foggy);
- Hay luna (the moon is out);
- Hay lluvia (it is rainy);
- Hay neblina (it is misty);
- Hay nubes (it is cloudy);
- Hay sol (it is sunny/ the sun is out);
- Hay tormenta (it is stormy);
- Había helada (it was frosty);
- Había niebla (it was foggy);
- Había luna (the moon was out);
- Había lluvia (it was rainy);
- Había neblina (it was misty);
- Había nubes (it was cloudy);
- Había sol (it was sunny/ the sun was out);
- Había tormenta (it was stormy);
The Spanish verb “haber” is also used as an impersonal verb. The combination haber que + infinitive is used to indicate what is needed or advisable.
Some examples of the use of “haber” as an impersonal verb in this way are:
- Hay que decir la verdad (you* need to tell the truth);
- Había que decir la verdad (you* needed to tell the truth);
- Hubo que decir la verdad (you* needed to tell the truth);
- Habrá que decir la verdad (you* will need to tell the truth);
- Habría que decir la verdad (you* should need to tell the truth);
*These are expressions without a specific subject. In English 'you' is commonly used as a subject, even if it doesn't mean literally 'you' but 'someone'. It is these situations, when 'you' is used to mean nobody specifically that the combination haber que + infinitive is commonly used.
The Spanish verb “haber” is also often used as an impersonal verb in expressions such as:
- There is/ there are
- There was/ there were
- There will be
Some examples of the use of “haber” as an impersonal verb in expressions of this type are:
- Hay mucho que hacer (there is a lot to do);
- Hay muchas personas (there are many people);
- Había mucho que hacer (there was a lot to do);
- Había muchas personas (there were many people);
- Habrá mucho que hacer (there will be a lot to do);
- Habrá muchas personas (there will be many people);
Now you should practise the use of the impersonal verbs with some examples of your own.
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