Hay…definitely not ay, ay, ay!

Haber is one of the more unusual verbs in Spanish, but it’s an indispensable one. The present tense form hay is usually translated as there is or there are. But note that it has nothing to do with location, rather it refers to existence. (If you were pointing at the “there” of location, you would use estar, as in El dinero está allí. Very often in everyday speech, you comment on the existence of something. Hay mucho dinero en la mesa. Hay muchas personas en las calles. Note that it is always hay, whether it refers to the existence of something singular or plural.

It is often used in public situations where in English you would ask the more personal, do you have…? In a restaurant, for example, ¿Hay vino? This is a more polite, less personal way of asking whether the restaurant offers something. It’s common to be looking for something in a store, and you’re met with a shrug of the shoulders and the dreaded comment, No hay.       What about the past, expressing there was or there were? This form is había, and notice that it is also used for either singular or plural. (A note that sometimes this is used ungrammatically even by native speakers who may say habían, but this is not correct usage.) Había muchos problemas. This form expresses a description of something, without a defined beginning or end. It’s a very generalized statement. The other past form is hubo. This indicates there was or there were but indicates that it is over. Hubo un incendio en un edificio ayer. Hubo una guerra allí en 1943.

Other forms used are future – habrá, there will be. This makes a very strong statement, stronger in feeling than the less specific va a pasar – it’s going to happen. Habrá problemas sin dinero. The subjunctive form is haya, there may be. Espero que haya más tiempo. The conditional form is habría, there would be       The other use of haber is what is called as an auxiliary or helping verb to form the perfect tenses. These are when we use “to have” as a helping verb in English. I have written, they had seen, I will have finished, you would have done – these are all called perfect tenses, and they are expanded to be called Present Perfect, Past Perfect, etc. With these forms in Spanish you use all conjugated parts of the helping verb, as it does agree with the subject. Present – he, has, ha, hemos, han. They’re used with a part participle – this is equivalent in English to spoken, seen, done, finished. He hablado, has visto, ha hecho, hemos terminado.

The most commonly used past forms: había, habías, había, habíamos, habían – I had spoken, había hablado, they had finished, habían terminado The conditional is often used in this tense – habría, habrías, habría,habríamos, habrían – he would have spoken, habría hablado ¡Ay, ay, ay…so many things to consider with hay!

Don’t get so tense about tenses!

Quite often I hear students express that their main problem in Spanish is choosing the right tense.  Verbs are definitely more complicated than in English, but there are some nuances which make things easier.  I have been struck while living in Mexico how often the simple present tense is used, even for things that haven’t happened yet. For instance, in English, quite often we say (using a future tense), I’m going to call you later or I’ll call you tomorrow.  Because this future is not so far off, in Spanish it would be commonly expressed as Te llamo más tarde (o mañana).  Simple present tense!

Other examples which in English are future, but in Spanish in the present, with either tú or usted forms: Will you let me know?  ¿Me avisa(s)? Will you wait for me?  ¿Me espera(s)? Will you sign for me?  ¿Me regala su firma, por favor?  (This is one of my favorite, as you’re being asked literally to give your signature as a gift, or a regalo.  Very polite!)  Another note here, if they ask for your firma electrónica, it’s your card PIN number required.  Will you call me tomorrow?  ¿Me llama(s) mañana? I am going to come by your house Monday.  Paso por tu casa el lunes.  

Sometimes in English we use will, not as the future, but to make a request.  Will you split a salad with me?  In Spanish, just use the present tense of querer (ie).  ¿Quiere(s) compartir una ensalada?  Will you do me a big favor?  ¿Quiere(s) hacerme un favorzote? 

But then there’s the future tense in Spanish used for something we commonly say in English in the present tense.  How many times do you start a sentence with “I wonder”.  There’s no real equivalent of this in Spanish (although me pregunto is sometimes used as in the meaning I ask myself), but the future tense comes to the rescue.  When saying to a driver or a clerk, I wonder if you have change.  In Spanish even simpler, ¿Tendrá cambio?  I wonder what time it is.  ¿Qué hora será?  I wonder if he’s coming or not.  ¿Vendrá o no? 


Use these little gifts of Spanish tenses to make your life less tense!