This post is part of a series of posts to help people learn English with a view to using it for business in the Technology industry.
We also have a secret facebook group especially for Business English language learners, with an interest in the Software industry. Here I post tips, examples and quizzes so you can ask questions, test your skills and collaborate with other like minded learners.
In this blog post I will answer what seemed at first like a simple English language question, until I started to look into it! An English student asked me to explain when to use Would have to, Should have to, Would have had to, Should have had to or Might have had to.
This question took me on a little journey through some interesting aspects of English Grammar.
Question: Do you know when to use the following expressions?
- Would have to,
- Should have to,
- Would have had to
- Should have had to
- Might have had to
- To have to do something
- Modal verbs: Should, Would, Might
- Conditional tenses
To have to do something
The phrase Have to, or have got to, is always followed by a verb, and is used to talk about an obligation to do something.
You can think of it as
[have (got)] + [verb infinitive]
It is made up of the present tense of “to have (got)”, used with the infinitive of the verb that the obligation relates to.
This is called the affirmative positive form if you want to look it up on the grammar websites.
This is how it works:
If I say:
I have to go home now, or I have got to go home now, or I’ve got to go home now,
that is the same as saying:
I must go home now
I have an obligation to go home now
I need to go home now.
If you say you ‘have to do something’, it expresses a fairly strong obligation to do something.
Sometimes in spoken English, it is used with an invisible implied verb, for emphasis.
I have to go, I really have to.
I’ve got to go, I really have got to.
I have to sleep now, I am so tired. I really have to.
You have to do your homework right now or you will miss your deadline.
I have got to sleep now.
you have got to do your homework now.
And, if you say I had to go, this is expressing the same obligation to go, but in the past tense.
I had to go, I really had to.
I’d got to go, I really had got to.
OK, so now we know what ‘have to’ and ‘had to’ are doing at the end of all those examples, and you know that all those examples would need to be followed by a verb, either explicitly or implied.
- Would have to
- Should have to
- Would have had to
- Should have had to
- Might have had to
Let’s take a look at the words Would, Should and Might next. These are all modal verbs, in case you want to look them up on your grammar sites, and they are very commonly used in English.
Modal Verbs: Would, Should and Might
A modal verb in English expresses at least one of three things
- obligation or
- Possibility / conditionality.
Specifically Would and Should are the past tense of modal verbs Will and Shall, which both express intention or desire.
Should, Would and Might are often used to form the conditional tenses, to discuss what might have happened but didn’t for some reason.
The form of the conditional sentence that we are concerned with, has two clauses.
An ‘If’ clause specifies the condition
The main clause tells you what would have happened if the condition was true
The tenses of the two clauses need to agree with one of the forms below.
If it rains, I need my umbrella (present non specific/present simple)
If it rains tomorrow, I will need my umbrella (present specific/conditional future)
If it rained, I would need my umbrella (past simple/conditional present)
If it has rained, I will need my umbrella (present perfect / conditional future)
If it had rained, I would have needed my umbrella (past perfect / conditional present perfect)
The word ‘Should’ can express obligation, in the sense of what is fair and right. The intensity of the obligation is less strong than ‘to have to’.
You might use it to show that you are planning to break your obligation, but you know the obligation is the reasonable and fair thing to do.
I should go to school today, but I am feeling sick, so I will stay in bed.
I should visit my grandmother this morning.
I should go home now although I really don’t want to.
Also ‘should’ can be used to express a reasonable or probable event.
Peter should arrive soon. (I expect Peter to arrive soon.)
Andre should pass his English test because he has studied so hard. (I expect Andre to pass his test.)
Sarah should be able to find her way to the client’s office, she has been there before. (I expect Sarah to be able to find her way.)
So, when we put should together with to have to, we can now talk about whether the obligation expressed by ‘to have to’ is reasonable or probable.
I don’t think I should have to clean the kitchen when it was my brother who made a mess.
Sports coaches should have to know basic first aid.
Nobody should have to tolerate that sort of horrible behaviour!
The word ‘Might’ is used to express possibilities that are less likely.
I will take my umbrella out with me because although it is sunny now, it might rain later.
It might snow on Christmas day in London, but it probably won’t.
David might pass his maths exam if he is lucky, but he didn’t study very hard so he will probably fail.
So, if we combine the modal verb might with to have to, we can talk about a possibility of a strong obligation that is not very likely to happen.
I might have to stay late after work.
You might have to carry the shopping if my arms fall off.
We might have to call for help if we get stuck.
Express a possibility of an intention, usually in a conditional or hypothetical scenario. You use would with another verb that expresses what is, or was intended if that condition were true.
I would sleep if it were not so noisy.
I would have made a cake if I had known you were coming to visit us.
So, combining would with to have to, we can talk about a conditional possibility that did not happen, in the simple past tense:
You would have to clean the kitchen if Grandma was here.
If the car broke down, I would have to call for help.
If I overslept, I would have to explain why I was late.
Bringing it all back together
Let us bring everything we have talked about back together and address the original question.
When we combine the past tense of to have, with the obligation indicator ‘to have to’ and with the modal verbs making the conditional tenses we end up with examples like this.
I would have to call for help if you did not arrive when you did
I would have had to call for help if you had not arrived when you did.
He would have to leave the university if he did not pass his exams.
He would have had to leave the university if he had not passed his exams.
The fire officer should have to check that everyone has left the building when there is a fire at the office.
The fire officer should have had to check that everyone has left the building when there was a fire at the office.
The manager might have had to recruit another tester if Jim had not passed his probation.
The manager might have to recruit another tester if Jim does not pass his probation
Notice that the tenses need to match one of the conditional forms, in both parts of the sentence.
Fill in the blank quiz example
These are the options and we need to select one or more of them to fill in the blank in the sentence below.
- A. Would have to
- B. Should have to
- C. Would have had to
- D. Should have had to
- E. Might have had to
In some of the scenarios, you could correctly use more than one option. Be aware that the option you choose could change the meaning slightly, so if you think two or more options could be correct, please try to explain the differences between the choices.
Q: If the trains had been cancelled he ———- stay another night in the city
This sentence uses a conditional tense since there is an ‘If’ clause and the main clause.
The first part of this sentence, the ‘If’ clause, is using the past perfect tense so you know you need to choose the correct the tense in the second clause. So we need either ‘would/should/might have had to’.
So we know Options A and B are incorrect.
However, you could reasonably substitute the blank in the question for either:
E Might have had to
C Would have had to
Each of the two options would give a sentence that is correct and makes sense, but each one would give the sentence a slightly different meaning.
E – If the trains had been cancelled he might have had to stay another night in the city
– this option suggests that there might have been other possible ways for him to travel, and so staying another night in the city was less certain if the trains were unavailable.
C – If the trains had been cancelled he would have had to stay another night in the city
– suggests there were no other possible travel options, and so staying another night in the city was more certain if the trains were unavailable.
We have a secret facebook group especially for Business English language learners, with an interest in the Software industry. Here I post tips, examples and quizzes so you can test your skills and collaborate with other like minded learners.