This sentence:

How many apples do you have to eat?

(at least in my dialect of English) means "How many apples do you possess and can eat?" if the final consonant in "have" is voiced (with a "v" sound), and "How many apples are you obligated to eat?" if it's pronounced unvoiced (with an "f" sound). They're the same word in written English, but could they be considered separate words in spoken English?


To the extent that we have any linguistic basis for counting the number of words in English, the best analysis is that "have to" as in "possess, in order to" is two words, and "hafta" is a single word. In the sense of possessing, the verb and following complementizer (or whatever you want to call it) is parallel to other two-word constructions, e.g. "These are all the apples that I {brought/bought/have/carried with me} to eat".

There are also so-called contractions appearing in {oughta, wanna, gonna, hafta} which have paraphrases with verb + "to", which are similar to the same suffix (phonologically) in {coulda, woulda, mighta} paraphraving "have" (hence the spelling "could of"). On phonological grounds, these combinations behave like single words (stress and vowel reduction, flapping, devoicing) as contrasted with the above two-word construction which has a different pronunciation, one indicating that it is made up of two separate words, phrased separately.

  • They’re not single words in the same way that ‘BAFTA’ or ‘honour’ (to rhyme with univerbated ‘have to’ and ‘going to’) are, though. Apart from the fact that they can be split back up (‘couldn’ta’, ‘haven’t to’, which doesn’t seem to allow univerbation, etc.), the devoicing to hafta is also facultative in many cases, rather than mandatory. Jan 26 at 23:49
  • I have to agree with Janus. The use of the contraction "hafta" seems to me to be independent of the vocalization of the final consonant. I would say "haff to" as two distinct words unless I'm being intentionally informal (similar to choosing between "going to" and "gonna"). Jan 27 at 15:05
  • Is there a verb "haff" different from have, or is it just a different verb form, like has?
    – jlawler
    Jan 27 at 15:28
  • I would say that the idiomatic sense of 'must' is a single word, like all the other modals. The different pronunciation of hafta or hassta is a giveaway. But when pronounced with a /v/ or a /z/, it's just the verb have as usual, followed by whatever, and it's not a modal.
    – jlawler
    Jan 27 at 17:00

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