I am confused by the roles of ‘haben’ and ‘lassen’ as “model verbs” (the reason of the double quote here, is because I’m not even sure how exactly to phrase the roles). Here are 2 examples:

  1. ‘Wir haben ein Haus bauen.’ Vs ‘Wir haben ein Haus bauen lassen’.
  2. ‘Er will etwas zu essen.’ Vs ‘Er will etwas zu essen haben’.

My question is, why are the “former”s not enough? What are the roles of ‘lassen’ and ‘haben’ here respectively? Are they there to emphasize the verbs (bauen, essen), or to indicate that the event has already passed, or something else?

  • Wir haben ein Haus bauen is ungrammatical while er will etwas zu essen is fine. Therefore I do not understand what the intended parallel is.
    – David Vogt
    Sep 29, 2020 at 17:57

1 Answer 1


There's a bit to unravel here. The two examples are quite different and specific, I hope to be able to still give you a broader understanding. Feel free to ask back or edit the question.

  1. lassen

"(Jemanden) etwas tun lassen" means "to have somebody do something". It can also mean "to let somebody do something", depending on context.

Your example

"Wir haben ein Haus bauen."

is not a correct German sentence. The correct way to put this in perfect tense would be

Wir haben ein Haus gebaut. (We have built a house.)

In the literal sense, this means that we built the house ourselves. Since nobody does that any more, this is nowadays often used in the sense of other people doing it for us with us ordering and paying.

Wir haben ein Haus bauen lassen. (We had a house built.)

literally means that we let other people build it. That is the difference that "lassen" makes.

What also makes this sentence potentially confusing is that it is correct perfect tense, it just uses "lassen" instead of the participle "gelassen" that you would expect. This is sometimes done with modal verbs.

As an aside: in a different context, "lassen" can also mean "to let", "to allow":

Wir haben unseren kleinen Sohn am Strand eine Burg aus Sand bauen lassen.

which can either mean we told him to built it or we allowed him to build it.

  1. haben with wollen

The example is specific to the use of haben together with wollen. If you have a more general question about haben, feel free to edit your question.

In the case of wollen, it's the same as in English. The verb "to want something" pretty much implies "to want to have something" if no other second verb is submitted. For example, a thing you can say is "I want to cuddle the dog", but if you just say "I want the dog", then you generally mean "I want to have the dog".


Er will etwas zu essen

is just a shortened form of

Er will etwas zu essen haben

with the same meaning, but the latter gramatically takes the more general form of "wollen" + [verb in infinitive form].

Er will [object] [verb].

Er will [etwas zu essen] [kaufen].
Er will [den Hund] [streicheln].
Er will [etwas zu essen] [haben].

  • 1
    In English, "He wants to have something to eat," is an idiomatic way of saying "He wants to eat something," but I'm guessing German is different. Er will etwas zu essen haben. would mean he wants to be carrying around a snack in case he gets hungry. Er will etwas essen. means he's hungry how. At least that's how I interpret it, I'm just a learner though so I'm not that certain.
    – RDBury
    Sep 29, 2020 at 12:54
  • @RDBury: thanks, I agree. "To have" in connection with something to eat has a meaning in English that "haben" doesn't have in German. "I'd like to have noodles" has a different meaning than "I hätte gerne Nudeln".
    – HalvarF
    Sep 29, 2020 at 21:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.