Existential Use of haber
  • Haber is a verb used in all persons as an auxiliary in the perfect tenses. It also has an impersonal and very basic use in which it states the existence of something, which follows it in the sentence.
  • It refers, without varying in form, to both singular and plural entities (see examples below).
  • It translates, therefore, as there is... / there are...; there was... / there were..., etc.
  • In the present indicative tense, the uniquely irregular form hay is used; in the other tenses, the normal third-person singular is used.
  • Examples
    • Hay una mochila en la mesa.
      • There's a backpack on the table.
    • Hay dos personas aquí que no hablan español.
      • There are two persons here who do not speak Spanish.
    • ¿Hubo un accidente o hubo dos en esa calle en esa calle ayer?
      • Was there one accident or were there two on that street yesterday?
    • Había sólo una escuela y dos iglesias en esta ciudad cuando yo era niño.
      • There were just one school and two churches in this city when I was a child.
    • Hasta ahora ha habido dos reuniones esta semana. La semana que viene habrá tres.
      • There have been two meetings this week. Next week there will be three.
  • Haber, ser and estar are not interchangeable, as they provide different information:
    • Haber, as noted above, states something's existence. The existing entity follows the haber form. It is generally modified by an indefinite, a number or other limiting adjective.
    • A principal use of ser is to identify something, which can be definite or indefinite, and generally precedes verb.
    • Estar is used when the location of something physical (definite or indefinite) is given. The entity being located generally precedes verb.
    • Unlike haber, both ser and estar show subject-verb agreement.
    • The examples below highlight these contrasts.
  • Ser, estar, haber contrasted in context
    • Hay (existence) una tienda muy cerca de nuestra casa. Es (identity) la tienda donde trabaja mi hermano. Está (location) entre el correo y el banco.
      • There's a store very close to our house. It's the store where my brother works. It is (located) between the post office and the bank.
    • Hay (existence) tres libros aquí y todos son (identity) míos. ¿Dónde están (location) los tuyos?
      • There are three books here and they're all mine. Where are yours?