Must vs Have to/ Are they really interchangeable?

Must is a modal auxiliary verb, and have to is a simple auxiliary that is used just like a modal verb, but it’s not a modal verb. The reason why we are learning it together is that both these verbs have similar functions. In this article, I’ll help you master all the differences between must and have to, and how to use these verbs.

There is a video lesson at the end that explains how to use must and have to in English with a lot of examples. So, if you prefer videos to articles, click on the video directly.

Must vs have to difference

Now, let’s look at this MUST vs HAVE TO concept.

1. To talk about obligations/necessities

The most common usages of must and have to is to talk about obligations or necessities (situations/things that are quintessential).


  • Use MUST to talk about an obligation that is internal.
    (When an obligation is internal (you understand the importance of something and know it is not the right thing to avoid it), use MUST to talk about it.
  • Use must to expresses what the speaker thinks is right or necessary to do.

Let’s take some examples of must!


  • I must attend this class. It will help me to pass the exam.
  • We must change our game plan. This does not seem to be working.
  • Students must have an ID card to sit in the exams.
  • You must wear a seat belt while driving.


  • It expresses an obligation that is external.
  • Expresses that speaker or the subject is forced or obliged to do something.
  • Expresses that event can’t be avoided. The speaker or the subject does not have any other option.

Examples of have to:

  • You have to work in the finance department.
  • I have to vacant the flat in the next 10 days. The court has ordered me to do so.
  • We have to return the books to the librarian.
  • Everyone has to wear casual clothes on weekdays. It’s been decided by the management.
  • She had to marry Jon because of her family pressure.

2. Must not and don’t have to

The negative forms of must and have to are extremely different in meaning.


  • The negative form of must (must not or mustn’t) means “not allowed or prohibited.”
  • Mostly, the prohibition is external (comes from outside), but the speaker could prohibit themselves from doing something too.

Examples of must not:

  • You must not touch my phone.
  • You must not bring a phone to the examination.
  • He must not see that girl anymore.
  • I must not play games anymore. (personal decision)
  • You must not open the box until I tell you to do so.

NOTE: Mustn’t is a contraction of must not, but it is not very common to use in both spoken and written English.

Have to

Don’t have to = not necessary or required, you are not required or forced to do something.

The negative forms of have to are followings:

  • Don’t have to – Plural subject (I, you, we, they)
  • Doesn’t have to – Singular subject (He, she, it)
  • Didn’t have to – Both singular and plural

Note: Don’t, doesn’t, and didn’t are contractions of do not, does not, and did not.

  • You don’t have to wait for me. (= You can wait for me, but it’s really not required/necessary.)
  • She doesn’t have to marry me. (= If she wants, she can…she is not obliged to do so.)
  • He did not have to do that job. He just did it for fun.
  • I don’t have to live here anymore, but I love this place.
  • Max does not have to apologize to her.

3. To give opinions/suggestions/recommendations

Both must and have to are used to give strong suggestions, opinions, recommendations, or advice. There is almost no difference between must and have to when we use them to give our suggestion, opinion, or advice.


  • You must talk to your family about the case.
  • Students must follow the people who have done something significant in society.
  • We must stop beating our kids.
  • He must stop hanging out with those boys. They are into terrible things.
  • You must listen to Gary Vee for once. Your life will not be the same after that.
  • You must try the South Indian food here. It is mindblowing.
  • We must stand against the bullies.

Have to

  • You have to talk to your family about the case.
    (It is a piece of very strong advice, probably stronger than MUST. Have to, here, gives the sense of an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation though. )
  • You have to change the way you think if you want to achieve something big.
  • She has to work on her communication skills.
  • Jim has to be nice to others. Everyone hates her.
  • You have to stop wasting time watching porn.
  • You have to listen to Gary Vee for once. Your life will not be the same after that.

4. To talk about possibility/certainty

If you are certain about something, use must or have to. There is almost no difference between must and have to when we want to talk about the certainty or possibility of an event that we are we are highly confident about.


  • You look ripped and bruised. You must be a fighter.
  • Make sure you take a blanket with you. It must be really cold there.
  • He generally doesn’t take a day off. He must be sick.
  • I think I offended Riya. She must be really mad at me.
  • Last night must have been amazing. You look elated.
  • There are beer bottles everywhere. They must have had a party last night.

Have to

  • It has to be the correct answer.
  • Somebody left a phone on my stairs. That has to be Monu.
  • This has to be the reason for her silence.
  • It has to be a murder. There are so many things leading us in that direction.

Note: we can also use the modal verb should to talk about the possibility of an event.

  • It should be the correct answer.
  • Somebody left a phone on my stairs. That should be Monu.

5. Must and have to in the past

  • MAY = used to refer to the present and the future time, can’t be used in the past to talk about an obligation
  • HAVE TO = along with the present and the future, it can also be used in the past


  • We must finish the work. (Present)
  • I must attend this class. (Present)
  • We must go there tomorrow. (Future)
  • She must not go on that trip next week. (Future)


  • We have to pay the rent now. (Present)
  • We will have to pay the rent next month. (Future)
  • We had to pay the extra money last month. (Past)
  • I had to quit my job because of the toxic environment. (Past)
  • Rony had to smoke that day. He’d lost a bet. (Past)

6. Modal verb

Must is a modal auxiliary verb, and many learners think that have to is a modal verb too. But that’s not the case.

HAVE TO is a simple verb form made out of the verb TO HAVE. It changes its form based on the number and the tense, which does not happen with MUST.

  • I have to pay her back.
  • He has to pay her back. (change of the subject)
  • I had to pay her check. (change of the tense)

Feel free to share your question, doubt, or feedback in the comment section, and also, share the post with the people that need it.

For one-on-one classes, contact me at [email protected].

Difference between MUST and HAVE TO
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Ashish found his first love—the English language—a few years back. Since then, he has been immersed in the language, breaking down the language and teaching it to passionate English learners. He has a flair for listening to the English language (podcasts, sitcoms, stories), observing the nuances, and making it easy for English learners. He is known for breaking down complex English topics and making them easy to be understood.

2 thoughts on “Must vs Have to/ Are they really interchangeable?”

  1. Informative post but apart from that I really liked the thumbnail and infographics these are very cool and that makes my fingers to write down the first comment!


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