Make Your Editor Cry: Have To, Has To vs. Must

Make Your Editor Cry: Have To, Has To vs. Must

Modal verbs in English serve to indicate likelihood, possibility, obligation and more. The most common examples of modal verbs include can, may, must, will and shall. Must is the one indicating an obligation or a necessity to do something.

Examples:

We must understand the difference between “there” and “their” to be better English speakers.
She must do her homework.
You must know he would never harm a helpless animal.

However, we could also say this.

Examples:

I have to wake up early to catch a morning train.
She has to complete step A before he can move to step B.
You have to tell the truth when under oath.

All are grammatically correct. Is there a difference? The difference between must and have to (or has to) is subtle, yes, but it exists.

Both must and have to refer to an obligation, but must indicates an opinion or suggestion. Have to is an expression of a more objective obligation coming from an outside force. In short, must is more subjective while have to or has to is more objective.

Saying that someone must do her homework is your opinion. Saying that she has to do her homework signals that it’s necessary because, for example, her teacher requires it.

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