I know the construction ‹ haben + zu › means have to:

  1. Weil ich ein Versprechen einzulösen habe, nicht mehr und nicht weniger.: Because I have to keep a promise / stick to my word, no more no less.
  2. Ich habe viel zu tun.: I am busy (lit: I have to do a lot of things)

Could you please help me with the following sentences:

Ihr privater Hintergrund hat niemanden zu interessieren.

I feel like the meaning is //Nobody is interested in your private background// but I'm not sure where "have to" fits here...

Ich habe keine Zeit, ich muss dringend waschen, weil ich nichts mehr anzuziehen habe.

And here I feel like the meaning is //I have nothing left to wear// but I'm again not sure about the "have to"...

Vielen Dank

3 Answers 3


Ihr privater Hintergrund hat niemanden zu interessieren.

That's "haben zu" in the meaning of some obligation, with some tricky negation. A longer (non-ideomatic) version would be:

Es ist eine Verpflichtung, dass Ihr privater Hintergrund niemanden interessiert.

Interesting aspect is that the ones obliged to do something (everybody) do not correspond to the grammatical subject of the sentence ("Ihr privater Hintergrund").

Ich habe keine Zeit, ich muss dringend waschen, weil ich nichts mehr anzuziehen habe.

Here, "haben" is used in its plain meaning "to have" / "to possess" something, and "anzuziehen" can be understood as "was ich anziehen kann" or "zum Anziehen".

In theory, something like

Ich habe nichts anzuziehen.

can also be understood (based on "haben zu") as an obligation not to wear clothes. But I don't think any native speaker would use that phrase with the "obligation" meaning.

  • 2
    FKK-Strand-Wächer: "Hier haben Sie nichts anzuziehen!"
    – user52445
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 10:43

There are two phenomena at work here:

The first is an additional meaning of "zu haben" which is being allowed to do something. So the translation would be something like Your private background should be nobody's business.

In the second example the "zu" does not belong to "haben", but to "anziehen". As you correctly determined, "nichts zum Anziehen haben" means having nothing to wear. Colloquially this can be shortened to "nichts anzuziehen haben". Your suggested translation is exactly the one I would pick.


xyldke's answer covers the important points, but I had a couple of details to add. There is a difference in English between "I have a promise to keep" and "I have to keep a promise". The first statement says a promise exists and I am supposed to keep it. The second says I must do something, and that thing is to keep a promise. The first can be true even if I never actually keep the promise; it may be true that I'm supposed to keep it, and the fact that I never do doesn't do anything but make me a promise breaker. If I never keep the promise then the second statement is false; if there is any option for not doing something then you can't say "I have to do" it. The difference is subtle, but it's there and the reason I'm pointing it out is because Ich habe ein Versprechen zu halten means the first statement in English. (I'm using halten instead of einlösen here since it seems to be more generic.) To say you "have to" do something in German normally involves müssen, so Ich muss ein Versprechen halten for the second statement.

Similarly, there is a difference between "I have a lot to do" and "I have to do a lot" in English. Use Ich habe viel zu tun to say the first one in German, and Ich muss viel tun for the second.

So the I think the source of confusion is a misunderstanding of the phrase haben + zu. The sentence Ihr privater Hintergrund hat niemanden zu interessieren doesn't say anything about someone having to do something. A more literal translation might be "Your private background has no one to interest," but your translation is how you'd normally phrase it.

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