Haber “To Have” or “There is/There are”

The verb haber can be used in two separate ways:

  1. Auxiliary: It is used as an auxiliary in compound tenses ( present perfect, pluperfect, etc.), meaning to have done something. With this use, it is always followed by a past participle. Note, even though haber here translates as to have, it does not express ownership, that use of to have is translated as verb tener.
  2. Existential: It is used in its existential form to mean there is/are.

Most grammar books will tell you that the existential haber has only one form in each tense: hay, había, hubo, habría, habrá; unlike English where the existential there + to be agrees with the noun that follows: there is a dog on the porch versus there are two dogs on the porch.  However in many dialects of Spanish and especially in spoken Spanish the forms of haber also agrees with the noun. So sometimes you will see the forms habían, hubieron, habrían, habrán used as the existential form when the noun that follows is plural. Compare the two variations of the same sentence below.

Prescriptive grammar

Había muchos pájaros allá miles de pájaros y de todas clases. There were many birds there, thousands of birds and of all kinds.

Variant

Habían muchos pájaros allá miles de pájaros y de todas clases.
There were many birds there, thousands of birds and of all kinds.

Irregular forms of haber

Haber in both its regular and existential forms is an irregular in the following tenses: present tensepreterit, and present subjunctive.

Present

haber to have
yo he nosotros/as hemos
has
él/ella/usted ha ellos/as/ustedes han
existential form: hay

Auxiliary haber to form the present perfect:

Siempre he tratado de oír música en otros idiomas.
I have always tried to listen to music in different languages.

Existential haber:

En Texas hay muchos mexicanos, pero también hay muchos centroamericanos como por ejemplo de Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua.
In Texas, there are a lot of Mexicans but there are a lot of Central Americans as well like for example Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua.

Preterit

The preterit of haber can be used along with the past participle to form a tense called preterit perfect or past anterior, which is extremely rare; it appears almost exclusively in literature but not spoken Spanish. However, the existential form hubo does exist in both spoken and written Spanish.

haber to have
yo hube nostros/as hubimos
hubiste  
él/ella/usted hubo ellos/as/ustedes hubieron
existential form: hubo

Auxiliary haber to form the preterit perfect:

Cuando hube agotado todos los argumentos, él me miró, irónico… When I had exhausted all my arguments, he looked at me ironically…

Existential haber:

Hubo una tormenta bien fuerte.
There was a very big storm.

Present Subjunctive

haber to have
yo haya nostros/as hayamos
tú hayas
él/ella/usted haya ellos/as/ustedes hayan
existential form: haya

Auxiliary haber to form the present perfect subjunctive:

¿Y alguna vez has escuchado una palabra o frase en español que te haya sorprendido, que hayas dicho– nunca he escuchado esto en mi vida?
At some point have you heard a word or phrase in Spanish that has surprised you or that you’ve said “I’ve never heard this before in my life”?

Existential haber:

No me parecería raro que más adelante, en algún momento, haya un diccionario de inglés a espanglish o al revés.
It wouldn’t seem weird to me if at some point in the future there is an English to Spanglish dictionary or vice versa.

In some communities, the present subjunctive of the verb haber is conjugated differently, as seen in the table below. This conjugation is considered an archaic form that has been preserved in some communities, often rural ones across South, Central and North America. 

haber to have
yo haiga nostros/as haigamos
tú haigas
él/ella/usted haiga ellos/as/ustedes haigan
existential form: haiga

Auxiliary haber:

El hecho que yo haiga asistido a la universidad y tenga los diplomas que tengo ahorita es una barrera muy grande que se ha roto.
The fact that I have attended university and that I have the diplomas that I have now is a very big barrier that has been broken.

Existential haber:

A la gente se le hace raro pensar vivir en algún lugar que no haiga calles; todo es tierra, todo es rocas.
It seems weird to people to think of living in a place where there are no streets; everything is dirt and rocks.