The Helping Verb Haber

The compound tenses in English are created by using the past participle form after a conjugated form of the helping verb “to have” (“has,” “have,” or “had”). Unfortunately, the English language also has a verb of possession that looks and sounds exactly the same. Which of the following sentences includes the helping verb?

  • I have studied.
  • I have a book.

The only way to know that the first “have” is a helping verb is to notice that it is followed by a verb in its past participle form. When you are writing a Spanish sentence, you need to determine whether you are stating that someone has (possesses) something, which requires the verb tener (“to have”), or that someone has done something, which requires you to create a compound tense by using the Spanish helping verb haber (“to have done …”).

The only other use for haber that doesn't create a compound tense is when haber is used idiomatically to indicate existence. It is irregular in the present tense when used this way: The word hay is followed by singular or plural objects to express “there is” or “there are.”

  • Hay un concierto de Orishas este fin de semana.
  • There's an Orishas concert this weekend.
  • Hay muchos admiradores de este grupo aquí.
  • There are many of this group's fans here.

In other tenses, the third person singular (él) form of the verb is used regardless of the number of what follows.

  • Había un partido de vólibol ayer.
  • There was a volleyball game yesterday. (imperfect)
  • Había muchos espectadores en el gimnasio.
  • There were many spectators in the gym. (imperfect)
  • Habrá otra competencia mañana.
  • There will be another competition tomorrow. (future)
  • Habrá cinco equipos en el torneo.
  • There will be five teams in the tournament. (future)
  • Habría más pero uno se canceló.
  • There would be more but one was cancelled. (conditional)