have to vs. must

Status
Not open for further replies.

Nightmare85

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 17, 2009
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
German
Home Country
Germany
Current Location
Germany
Hello guys,
On a TV show a girl says:
I have to go to the toilet.

Why doesn't she say:
I must go to the toilet. :?:

No one tells her what to do, so it's her own decision.
I have the feeling they use "have to" because if she wants or not, she simply has to go in order not to wet oneself :-D
"The nature" makes her go, so there is some influence.

What do you think?

Cheers!
 

crazYgeeK

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2010
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Vietnamese
Home Country
Vietnam
Current Location
Vietnam
I think it's so funny when saying "I must go to the toilet". It means I really have no reason to do that normally as people do in the toilet.
In other words, when you say "I have to go to the toilet", you have no other choices to do at that time and you don't really like that. But when you say "I must go to the toilet", you mean you want to do that anyway, that means you may not go to the toilet for something normally, you would do something else.
Thank you !
 
Last edited:

Raymott

VIP Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2008
Member Type
Academic
Native Language
English
Home Country
Australia
Current Location
Australia
Hello guys,
On a TV show a girl says:
I have to go to the toilet.

Why doesn't she say:
I must go to the toilet. :?:

No one tells her what to do, so it's her own decision.
I have the feeling they use "have to" because if she wants or not, she simply has to go in order not to wet oneself :-D
"The nature" makes her go, so there is some influence.

What do you think?

Cheers!
I think you've picked up the wrong idea that "have to" and "must" have different meanings related to whether the action is volitional or not.
In broad terms, if you "must" do something, you "have to" do it, and vice versa.
Have you heard differently?
 
Joined
Jun 21, 2010
Member Type
English Teacher
Raymott does not seem understand the subtle differences between "have to" and "must," especially from a linguistic standpoint. It is true that the meanings of these two words are interchangeable; however, their respective meanings largely depend on situational context made throughout history. The modal "have to" also carries with it the connotation of needing to do something while "must" is the formal representation of obligation. There are many variations associated with have to. As such, it is evident that the inherent meanings of "have to" and "must" are still in a state of linguistic flux. To put it simply, there is a notable difference between their "volitional" capacities.
 

emsr2d2

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 28, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK
Linguistics aside, though, it is certainly the case that in spoken English, you will hear them used pretty much interchangeably.

I have to go to the supermarket today. I've run out of food.

I really must go to the supermarket today. I've run out of food.

Do you see a difference there? I don't. It's important that I go to the supermarket because I've run out of food. No-one is making me go, there's no obligation, yet I would not differentiate between the two statements above. It's entirely volitional. It would be silly if I didn't go, as I would then have no food! It's not actually imperative, yet I would use both forms above with equal regularity, I think.
 

philo2009

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 16, 2009
Member Type
Academic
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
Hello guys,
On a TV show a girl says:
I have to go to the toilet.

Why doesn't she say:
I must go to the toilet. :?:

No one tells her what to do, so it's her own decision.
I have the feeling they use "have to" because if she wants or not, she simply has to go in order not to wet oneself :-D
"The nature" makes her go, so there is some influence.

What do you think?

Cheers!

Although either is, of course, grammatical, the first is the more plausible, since the necessity to visit the smallest room is imposed, as you say, by nature.

"I must V" tends to amount to little more than a reminder to oneself to perform some action that might otherwise be forgotten (I must stop at the supermarket on the way home tonight, etc.) - hardly likely in the case of a call of nature!
 
Last edited:

Mehrgan

Key Member
Joined
Apr 18, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
Persian
Home Country
Iran
Current Location
Iran
Thanks to posters. I remember that once I came up with this explanation that "have to", if there's any difference between the two terms, is used when there's an obligation from outside, while "must" means that the person himself feels it's necessary for him to do Sth. For example, in army, you have to polish your boots. And when a friend of yours is in hospital, then you believe that you must go and visit them. I hope someone will make this clear. Thanks.
 

Heterological

Member
Joined
Jun 25, 2010
Member Type
English Teacher
"Must" is also more narrowly used in American English than in British English. I almost never use "must" in speech or casual writing, and the thought of someone saying, "I must go to the bathroom!" made me giggle. I tend to save it for writing syllabi for classes and similar applications.
 

Raymott

VIP Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2008
Member Type
Academic
Native Language
English
Home Country
Australia
Current Location
Australia
Thanks to posters. I remember that once I came up with this explanation that "have to", if there's any difference between the two terms, is used when there's an obligation from outside, while "must" means that the person himself feels it's necessary for him to do Sth. For example, in army, you have to polish your boots. And when a friend of yours is in hospital, then you believe that you must go and visit them. I hope someone will make this clear. Thanks.
While there is a difference in usage, it's more subtle than that.
For example, if I decide I must/should study tonight because I haven't done any for a while, I can still say, "Sorry I can't go out tonight. I have to study" - even though this is self-imposed.
If it's imposed by my having an exam tomorrow, I can still say, "I must study tonight".

Note that this is only using "must/have to" with 'I'. It becomes even more complicated with other persons, 'you, he' etc.
"You must do something" pretty much means "You have to do something", though there are differences in usage depending on the exact meaning, the context, who is saying it to whom ....

I can understand you wanting a definitive answer, but I'm afraid there is none. If there were, there wouldn't be so many loose guidelines such as those that you and Nightmare are taking for strict "rules".
 

euncu

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
Turkish
Home Country
Turkey
Current Location
Turkey
Thanks to posters. I remember that once I came up with this explanation that "have to", if there's any difference between the two terms, is used when there's an obligation from outside, while "must" means that the person himself feels it's necessary for him to do Sth. For example, in army, you have to polish your boots. And when a friend of yours is in hospital, then you believe that you must go and visit them. I hope someone will make this clear. Thanks.

I believe that most of the non-native-speakers learn (or are taught) the difference as Mehrgan put it. But since I've been a member of this forums,
I've been seeing that what we the non-native speakers know as rules are (not always but in some cases) not as valid as we think.(or they've seemed to me that way)
 

crazYgeeK

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2010
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Vietnamese
Home Country
Vietnam
Current Location
Vietnam
I'm not sure how important to use must/have to correctly in daily conversation, but I'm sure it is very important in an English test where you have to choose must or have to if you want a good mark.
I have done some tests like that and my teacher let me know the differences between have to/mus t so that I can do my tests well.
May be all that knowledges is too old and people using modern English don't care about the differences, isn't it ?

Please who don't believe there are differences between them, try to search the grammar about have to/must for details.
Thank you !
 

Raymott

VIP Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2008
Member Type
Academic
Native Language
English
Home Country
Australia
Current Location
Australia
I'm not sure how important to use must/have to correctly in daily conversation, but I'm sure it is very important in an English test where you have to choose must or have to if you want a good mark.
I have done some tests like that and my teacher let me know the differences between have to/mus t so that I can do my tests well.
I agree. If you are being taught that there is only black and white, and you know that you're going to be examined on it by the same people who are teaching you, you should probably stick to what you've been taught for the purposes of the exam.
When you finish your exams, you're free to explore the world of greys.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top