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If you’ve been learning Portuguese for a while, you’ve probably noticed that little word “há” – it literally pops up everywhere, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact, há is a verb form of the frequently used verb haver.
The Portuguese verb haver is used (1) to indicate the existence or occurrence of something – the equivalent of there is/are – and (2) to denote the passage of time. Additionally, we use haver as the auxiliary verb (3) to form perfect tenses.
Let’s look at it in greater detail.
- Passage of time
- Impersonal usage
- Personal usage
- Other uses
We say há to express the passage of time, whether concerning a durative action or the period of time that has passed since the occurrence of punctual action in the past.
Let’s look at an example of há expressing time flow concerning a durative action:
O Gabriel vive no Porto há 4 meses.
Gabriel has been living in Porto for 4 months.
The sentence above denotes a durative action starting 4 months ago and lasting until the present moment (Gabriel continues to live in Porto).
Note that we don’t say há when we refer to durative actions that have occurred in the past:
O Gabriel viveu no Porto 4 meses.
Gabriel lived in Porto for 4 months (not anymore).
Punctual actions (occurred in the past)
Let’s now look at an example with há expressing the passage of time from the occurrence of a punctual action in the past until the present moment:
A Mariana visitou o Brasil há 2 anos.
Mariana visited Brazil 2 years ago.
Since that sentence above expresses a punctual action that occurred in the past, its main verb is conjugated in the past tense (visitou/visited).
Here’re a couple more examples where há appears in time-flow related set phrases:
Olá Sofia, há quanto tempo!
Hi Sofia, long time no see!
Há quanto tempo trabalhas na Microsoft?
For how long have you been working at Microsoft?
This use of haver is “impersonal” in the sense that there is no subject preceding it. In that case, only the third-person singular is used:
|presente do conjuntivo||haja|
“There is …”
Like the English expression there is/are, we say há, havia, or houve (depending on the tense) to express the existence or occurrence of someone or something. Note that we continue to use the singular form even when the sentence concerns several things or people:
Há só uma pessoa na sala de espera.
There is only one person in the waiting room.
Há coisas que não entendo.
There are things that I can’t understand.
Likewise, we use haver’s third person singular when referring to the past *. Again, we’ll use its singular form regardless of the number it refers to:
Ontem havia muita gente na rua.
Yesterday there were many people on the streets.
Hoje houve alguém que se magoou no ginásio.
Today there was someone who got hurt at the gym.
* Note that in the examples above I am using two different verb aspects, namely the perfeito and the imperfeito. The difference between the two may not be obvious for English native speakers and other language learners. Learn more about it in this article: Portuguese Perfect vs. Imperfect Tense: Know When to Use Which.
What’s more, in this same context (there is …), you could use the verb existir instead of haver. With existir, however, you’ll need to make sure that the verb form agrees in number (singular/plural):
(1) Eu sei que há um segredo que ainda está por revelar.
(2) Eu sei que existe um segredo que ainda está por revelar.
I know that there is a secret that is yet to be revealed.
(1) Há histórias que nunca se esquecem.
(2) Existem histórias que nunca se esquecem
There are tales that one never forgets.
Há followed by que implies a sense of obligation, though one that is not directed towards anyone in specific. Here’re a few examples:
Há que continuar a lutar.
One must keep on fighting.
Há que entender que nem sempre podemos ter aquilo que queremos.
One must realize that we don’t always get what we want.
Like há que, the structure ter de also expresses a must, though one that is directed to someone in specific (personal):
Tens de continuar a lutar.
You must keep on fighting.
Tens de entender que nem sempre podemos ter aquilo que queremos.
You must realize that we don’t always get what we want.
Personal usage (conjugated)
In this section, haver is conjugated according to the subject/person of the sentence. Here’re a few tenses and conjugations of haver:
|Presente||Pretérito Perfeito||Pretérito Imperfeito|
Auxiliary to form perfect tenses
As you may know, the Portuguese verb ter, like the English verb have, is used as an auxiliary to form perfect tenses. You may, nonetheless, run into haver while being used in that same quality*. A few examples:
(1) Não me lembro de ter dito isso.
(2) Não me lembro de haver dito isso.
I can’t recall having said that.
(1) Ela tinha estado no Brasil antes de vir para Portugal.
(2) Ela havia estado no Brasil antes de vir para Portugal.
She had been to Brazil before she came to Portugal.
(1) Nós tinhamos completado os nossos cursos antes do nosso primeiro emprego.
(2) Nós havíamos completado os nossos cursos antes do nosso primeiro emprego.
We had finished our degrees before we got our first job.
* In Brazilian Portuguese, the usage of the auxiliary haver (instead of ter) is somewhat more common than in the European standard. Read the following article to learn more about how these two standards compare: European vs. Brazilian Portuguese – how different are they really?
And speaking perfect tenses! Learn more about Portuguese equivalents to English verb tenses and moods in the following article: Portuguese Verb Usage and Tenses: A Practical Guide Anchored to English.
We use the verb haver to say that we have a wish coupled with the faith that it will come true, even if we might not know exactly how or when. In this context, we’ll be using haver in the present tense:
Hei de ter tempo e dinheiro para viajar pelo mundo inteiro.
I will eventually have time and money to travel the whole world.
Tu hás de aprender a língua Portuguesa.
You will eventually learn Portuguese.
Ela há de conseguir vencer esta fase difícil.
She will eventually overcome this difficult phase.
Eles hão de se arrepender.
They will eventually regret it.
Should, must, would
The verb haver conjugated in the imperfect tense (imperfeito) and followed by de corresponds to the Portuguese modal verb dever *. Depending on the context, haver de (or dever) corresponds to either the modals should, must, or would:
Tu havias de cá vir mais vezes.
Tu devias cá vir mais vezes.
You should come by more often.
Vocês haviam de ter ficado confundidos com tanta informação contraditória.
Vocês deviam ter ficado confundidos com tanta informação contraditória.
You must have gotten confused with so much contradictory information.
Tenho a certeza que ela havia de gostar de Lisboa.
Tenho a certeza que ela devia gostar de Lisboa.
I am sure that she would have liked Lisbon.
* Read the following article to learn more about Portuguese modal verbs: Portuguese Equivalents of English Modal Verbs.
We use haver to express gratitude, desires, and wishes. In this case, we’ll be using the present tense of the subjunctive mood:
And here’re a few examples:
Health to us all!
May we never be short of money!
Hajam mais dias assim!
More days like this would be perfect!
We use the structure ter de se haver to express confrontation. In this case, it is the auxiliary ter that is conjugated, whereas haver remains in its infinitive form:
Tive de me haver com muitas dificuldades.
I had to cope with many difficulties.
Todos nós temos de nos haver com as alterações climáticas.
We all have to face climate change.
Ela vai ter de se haver com a justiça.
She will have to face justice.
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