There is a construction which exists in both English and German and has about the same meaning:

You have to do your homework
Du hast Deine Hausaufgaben zu machen.

I think there is a slight difference: haben zu is very rude; one can expect to hear it from someone superior who want to be certain that you "get the message", especially if he expects opposition. "have to" is less rude, if I got it right - you could use the example to express the general recommendation/obligation to do homework, but you can of course use it to command to do it now.

I was asking myself if and how these forms are related:

  1. Does it appear in other germanic languages? (I believe it exists in Dutch)
  2. or has it existed in one of both languages before and was incorporated into the other?
  3. if so, when?
  • 1
    I like the question, but your question list makes it partly off-topic.
    – user6191
    Sep 28 '14 at 17:56
  • 3
    "We have to do", short for "we have the duty/task/obligation to do" is such a simple structure that I can't imagine that it was loaned from one Germanic language to another. I assume it was a common way of expression. And normally "zu tun haben" is not rude as in "Wir haben heute viel zu tun". Only in some usages it can have a sharp note as in "Du hast zu gehorchen! (Father to son)
    – rogermue
    Sep 28 '14 at 18:57
  • 1
    "Wir haben heute viel zu tun" is not really the same structure though - it corresponds to "We have a lot of things to do". Still, depending on context I wouldn't say that "Du hast (...) zu machen" is rude so much as authoritarian. Sep 29 '14 at 12:13
  • 1
    @KlausDraeger I'd say it is, since it is replaceable with "Wir müssen heute noch viel tun". Agree with the rest, though.
    – user6191
    Sep 30 '14 at 23:25
  • It does not work in all Germanic languages. For instance, in Swedish you would say: Du måste göra dina läxor. May 26 '15 at 9:32

Just like the composite perfect with have and/or is, the construction with have for must is not restricted to Germanic languages but is a more general European phenomenon.

  • English: You have to do that.
  • German: Ihr habt das zu tun. (restricted to contexts of strong compulsion or force)
  • French: Vous avez à faire cela.
  • Italian: Avete da farlo.
  • Spanish: Habéis de hacerlo.

In Spanish there is even a more popular alternative construction (tengo que) that uses the full verb tener instead of the auxiliary haber, and que rather than a preposition. A similar construction exists in Portuguese.

I am only a beginning learner of Dutch, but it almost seems to me as if the construction may not be current in Dutch. But I would guess it exists at least in archaic Dutch. Maybe a native Dutch speaker can provide more information. I am also under the impression that the Scandinavian languages may not have the construction.

So it appears that maybe it's primarily a Romance phenomenon after all (Vulgar Latin?), and that German and English were either part of its evolution or acquired it from the Romance languages later.

  • 1
    I can't think of current examples in Dutch either. Yes, you can do it, and people will understand, but it sounds artificial. "Je hebt dat te doen". Nov 4 '15 at 14:58

I suspect that for German this structure developed from the use of the infinitive in command forms ('Bitte die Paesse vorweisen' - man hat die Paesse vorzuweisen), and would distinguish between that use and the 'viel zu tun haben' structure as 'viel zu tun', 'viel zu essen' are functioning just as noun-completions without the sense of obligation or compulsion.


It seems that "have to" is a "straight" translation of "haben zu."

It's only the contexts that make them different, that "have to" would be "softer" than "haben zu" because they both mean more or less the same thing. The German language (and perhaps culture) is a bit more "abrupt" than English.

  • 2
    This is true, but doesn't answer one of the 3 questions.
    – jawo
    Oct 1 '14 at 5:47
  • @Semple: If it is a "straight translation" from English, and English is a "Germanic" language, then the answer addresses the first question; the use in "other" Germanic language.
    – Tom Au
    May 26 '15 at 13:33

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