must vs have to [really different?]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by flipside405, Mar 9, 2007.

  1. flipside405 Member

    English (England)

    I'm an EFL teacher and a native speaker. Every few months that old chestnut "must" comes up in a textbook. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the rule you find in grammar books is a complete load of rubbish.

    According to all the books I have seen, "have to" is for general external obligations, that apply to everyone, eg "you have to drive on the left in the UK."

    "must" is also defined as an obligation, but used by someone in an authority position, eg a teacher, a parent ("you must turn off your mobile," "you must tidy your room") also it can be used when talking about yourself, eg "i must go to the supermarket"

    Personally, I almost always use "have to," and I would define "must" as to give strong advice, not impose an obligation. As I find that students overuse "must," I'm considering not teaching it anymore.

    Is this just me? What do you think? (and don't parrot the rule back at me; I know it!)

  2. MonaArg Senior Member

    "As I find that students overuse "must," I'm considering not teaching it anymore. "

    Count me in! I no longer teach them as such. I just ask students to paraphrase one into the other, especially the negative form of "have to", which tends to be problematic for Spanish speakers.

  3. Nurja Senior Member

    Spanish- Spain
    HI Flip,

    I'm an English teacher here in Spain and I obviously know the rules but I've heard before what you say.Apparently natives do not use MUST and HAVE TO as books tell us to do. I don't know however if those rules are part of a standard correct English and not part of the everyday language. It's like with the rules that explain the use of the different tenses: do educated natives use them as the rules say? I've experienced that many times you don't do it. And I don't think other "real" uses are wrong.

    Anyway, back to must vs have to, I have to say Spanish students do overuse MUST too!
  4. sgtudor1965 Member

    Siena, Italy
    English, USA
    I actually agree with the rule that flipside mentions. To me, "have to" is a general phrase meaning that something "is necessary". It doesn't imply anything about the origin of the necessity. On the other hand, "must" often implies some sort of of obligation, often from an authority figure. I would say, however, that these nuances are not commonly known or adhered to, and that as a result, "must" and "have to" are interchangeable at least 99% of the time.
  5. flipside405 Member

    English (England)
    Thanks for your advice.
    I teach native spanish speakers too (or catalans, to be accurate) and I've always felt uncomfortable teaching must, just because i never use it.
    Surely we should teach the English that is used rather than a rule that was probably made up by the authors of grammar books.
    I don't think i'll be able to change how my current advanced students use it, as it's so fossilised, but for the future, I think i'll just stick to have to.
  6. MonaArg Senior Member

    To make matters worse, think of "have got to do sth"
    I have to go.
    I must go.
    I've got to go. (+ gotta).

    Experience has taught me it's not worth the effort/time, because as soon as you mention one "rule/meaning" you find another example which contradicts it.

  7. Nurja Senior Member

    Spanish- Spain
    I agree with you in that we should teach people the English people uses. And for you it's easier being a native :). However I think students should know at least that MUST exists, because they can come across the word in any book or newspaper. I'd rather insist on their interchangeability by native speakers.

    As far as I know Catalans are Spanish !:) They can be only catalan-speakers or catalan and spanish- speakers, though :)
  8. paulio Senior Member

    UK, English
    What an interesting question.

    I would teach "have to" as the standard phrase, as I think, though I am tired and may get it wrong, that you can say "have to" 99.999% of the time instead of "must" but not vice versa. "Must" is common though so students must be able to know what it means.
  9. fabiog_1981 Senior Member

    Milano/Italia - Italiano
    What about when making an inference? I would only use "must" since I was taught so.
    Am I wrong?
    A - The phone is ringing.
    B - It must be him.
  10. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I think you're right, fabiog_1981.

    "Must" and "have to" are often, for practical purposes, interchangeable.

    But in inferences/deductions, I'd say "must" is much more likely than "have to".
  11. I think that in the sense of obligation they are, usually, interchangeable.

    The point about overuse made a few times by previous posters is confirmed by my own experience as a learner of EFL, and on occasion a teacher too.

    Even if you are not taught the supposed rule (I don't think I ever was - I always thought they were pretty much the same), you will probably tend to overuse must simply because it's such an easy construction, and also because there is no confusion between several meanings and uses of have/have to. In so called real life, have to is used immeasurably more often, while must seems to me to be kept for special occasions.

    - Clean your room, Katie!
    - Do I have to?
    - Yes, you do.

    Must just wouldn't work here at all. I can't imagine a child saying must I?. On the other hand, special occasion at least allows, and perhaps even calls for must:

    Leave him alone. You must put plastic bags away as your brother could suffocate in one.

    Of course, must is such a basic word that it has to be taught. Particularly as it is necessary in its negative form for expressing very firm prohibition.

    You mustn't put plastic bags on your brother's head.
  12. jamesjiao

    jamesjiao Senior Member

    New Zealand English and Mandarin Chinese
    You are not wrong to use 'must' and I agree it would seem more common in this situation; however, I wouldn't hesitate to use 'it has to be him' or 'it's got to be him'.
  13. nickytootricky Member

    English - England
    This is a really interesting topic. I'm studying corpus linguistics for my MA in Spanish-English translation, and I'm doing a project on the differences between deber, tener que, haber que vs should, have to, must. I don't want to make any sweeping statements at the minute but at least on the written side, must is actually more commonly written than have to. Should is by far the most common.


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