Using había to say there was / there were

In Spanish we use había to say there was or there were. Read and listen to these examples:

Había un perro en el parque.
There was a dog in the park.

Había dos perros en el parque.
There were two dogs in the park.

Había un niño en la clase.
There was a child in the classroom.

Había demasiados niños.
There were too many kids.

Había una buena oferta para ir a Tenerife.
There was a good offer to go to Tenerife.

Había descuentos para estudiantes.
There were discounts for students.

In Spanish, you use había when it is followed by one thing/person or many things/people, unlike in English.
GRAMMAR: Había is an impersonal form that comes from the third person of the verb haber in El Pretérito Imperfecto. It literally means it had.

See also Using hubo = there was / there were (simple past)

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Había descuentos para estudiantes.
There were discounts for students.


Había un perro en el parque.
There was a dog in the park.


Había un niño en la clase.
There was a child in the classroom.


Había dos perros en el parque.
There were two dogs in the park.


Había demasiados niños.
There were too many kids.


Había una buena oferta para ir a Tenerife.
There was a good offer to go to Tenerife.


Q&A Forum 4 questions, 10 answers

GraemeB2Kwiziq community member

Hubo vs Había

In the question, How would you say "There was an accident on the motorway" the nearest correct answer I can find is "Había un accidente...", and there isn't the option for preterite 'hubo'. However, because accidents are one time actions with clear beginnings and ends, it's more appropriate to use the preterite tense in this case. In fact, this particular sentence is a very common one to use when explaining the differences between the two conjugations and especially to illustrate why imperfect simply doesn't work here. 

Asked 4 months ago
GraemeB2Kwiziq community memberCorrect answer

Thanks Alan. 

I'm always reluctant to allow for the possibility of other actions going on that aren't mentioned as that can open up boundless horizons that allow for any number of interpretations. If the 'había' clause had been followed by a 'main action' clause in preterite - and perhaps connected by conjunction like 'mientras' or 'cuando'  - I might feel more comfortable accepting the reasoning of this blog post in relation to my post.  But, as an accident is such a short term action, I'm not even sure those usual rules of preterite with imperfect would apply in this case.

AlanC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Actually both are possible depending on the context. You might find this link useful, since it uses Hubo/Habia un accidente as its main example.

http://preguntolandia.blogspot.com/2010/05/hubo-vs-habia.html

InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Graeme

As Alan very rightly said, it depends on the context, but we must also think of it as "how the speaker is seeing that action in his/her head" at the moment of speaking. If I say: 

Hubo un accidente de tráfico en la M40. 

what I am seeing in my head is the end of that event. I may see the police clearing the congested traffic once it is all clear, for example. 

If I had said instead:

Había un accidente de tráfico en la M40.

What I see in my head is the actual cars involved in the accident on the side of the road. Using había is describing what was happening, not seeing it as an "ended" event. 

This difference in use is common for all verbs. We have a lesson about this general difference. 

I hope this helps,

Saludos,

Inma

Hubo vs Había

In the question, How would you say "There was an accident on the motorway" the nearest correct answer I can find is "Había un accidente...", and there isn't the option for preterite 'hubo'. However, because accidents are one time actions with clear beginnings and ends, it's more appropriate to use the preterite tense in this case. In fact, this particular sentence is a very common one to use when explaining the differences between the two conjugations and especially to illustrate why imperfect simply doesn't work here. 

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LilouC1Kwiziq community member

una ?

Hello, in "Había buena conexión a internet", why isn't there "una" in front of buena ? Thanks !
Asked 5 months ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Lilou

Both would be fine:

"Había buena conexión a internet" or "Había una buena conexión a internet" 

Omitting the article una would simply make it more of a general statement, that's it.

Saludos

Inma

una ?

Hello, in "Había buena conexión a internet", why isn't there "una" in front of buena ? Thanks !

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SteveC1Kwiziq community member

hubo/había with a set time

“Maria told us there was a meeting at 4”

hubo is incorrect here, but I thought with a set time it became ‘hubo’? What am I missing? 

Asked 1 year ago
SilviaKwiziq team member

¡Hola Steve!

We are sorry about this mistake, it is true that we should use the indefinido instead of the imperfecto in this case with a set time. We have just changed that question to avoid more problems in the future. Thank you for your contribution! Silvia.

SteveC1Kwiziq community member
Perfect! I didn't report it as an error as I assumed I was wrong somehow :) thanks!
InmaKwiziq team member

Hi Steve, as Silvia said, that sentence was changed to avoid confusion, as this is a more general lesson about "había". However bear in mind that when you do more advance lessons you may find "habia" combined with time phrases that seem more appropriate with the preterite. Those are also correct; they will be of a more specific usage though. We will have more lessons about usage soon.

Saludos,

Inma

hubo/había with a set time

“Maria told us there was a meeting at 4”

hubo is incorrect here, but I thought with a set time it became ‘hubo’? What am I missing? 

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MiekeA2Kwiziq community member

Where can I learn more about when to use Había and when to use Hubo?

I know había is imperfecto and hubo is pretérito, but in this context it seems not always applicable. Is there a clear distinction?
Asked 1 year ago
InmaKwiziq team member
Hola Mieke, We are creating more lessons about specific uses at the moment. As you know both "Había" and "Hubo" translate as "There was/were", however the first will be used to express continuity in the past while with the latter there is no sense of continuity. You can have a look here to learn a bit more about the use of the imperfect: Using El Pretérito Imperfecto to express habits or repeated actions in the past (imperfect tense) and here: Using El Pretérito Imperfecto to express habits or repeated actions in the past (imperfect tense) Gracias, Inma
William C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Hi Mieke I have always found lots of information on youtube. Suggest google "haber Spanish youtube", you are sure to find a video that suits your style of learning
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Mieke

Here is a lesson about when to use había vs hubo

Había vs Hubo (Imperfect vs Preterite)

I hope this helps

Inma

Where can I learn more about when to use Había and when to use Hubo?

I know había is imperfecto and hubo is pretérito, but in this context it seems not always applicable. Is there a clear distinction?

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