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?

  • 3
    We have the same problem with gonna, wanna, useta, oughta, shouldna, and many more. Written English doesn't represent pronunciation, nor does it represent intonation, rhythm, or word or syllable separation. So don't expect much from it. If you want details, you hafta define "word" better than putting a space after it.
    – jlawler
    Jul 26, 2022 at 18:16
  • « You don’t hafta eat apples, ya know. » « No, I do have to. » Obligation, or possession of two apples? Jul 27, 2022 at 18:31
  • « How many apples do you haaave to eat? » Jul 27, 2022 at 18:32
  • "haff to" and "have to" are not different words because "haff" is not a word.
    – Lambie
    Apr 14, 2023 at 19:00

2 Answers 2


I found this thread when thinking about the phrase "you have to have", which I would normally pronounce "you haff to have". I'm a native English speaker and I don't consider this to be a dialect issue. It seems to be pretty common among people who use grammar and idiom well enough, across multiple regional, social and educational levels.

Edit: So, are they separate words (as per the OP's question)? IMO, they are are homonyms. It's a little like the two different pronunciations of "the". "Thee" (long e) implies a single and significant noun ("she's the best in the whole world") whereas "thu" (short e) implies an indeterminate number ("he's gone to the shops").

In my example, "you have to have it", the first "have (pronounced "haff") denotes an imperative. The second (pronounced "have") is about ownership. Two different words, same spelling - classic homonym.


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.

  • 2
    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, 2021 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, 2021 at 15:05
  • 1
    Is there a verb "haff" different from have, or is it just a different verb form, like has?
    – jlawler
    Jan 27, 2021 at 15:28
  • 4
    The existence of inflections have to, has to, had to is another reason not to consider it a single word.
    – TKR
    Jul 26, 2022 at 16:45
  • 2
    I have certainly heard plenty of L1 English speakers say things like ha[f]ing (modal) which directly contrasts with ha[v]ing (possessive) in addition to ha[f/s]e to. That would seem like evidence to me that, at least for some speakers, there has been a lexical split.
    – Miztli
    Jul 26, 2022 at 17:45

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