Difference Between Must and Have to

Main Difference – Must vs. Have to

Both must and have to are two verbs that indicate obligations. Though we often use these two terms interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between in their meaning. The main difference between must and have to is, Must indicates a personal circumstance makes the obligation necessary whereas Have to indicates an external circumstance that makes this obligation necessary.

Must vs. Have to 


Both words must and have to are used to indicate a strong obligation. However, a difference between must and have to can be found in the nature of the obligation.

When we use ‘must’ this usually means that some personal circumstance makes the obligation necessary.

“I must go and see them sometimes.”

“You must quit smoking.”

We use ‘have to’ when some external circumstances make this obligation necessary.

“My boss is very strict; I have to arrive at work eight sharp.”

“You have to get good marks; otherwise your mother will be very angry with you.”

Considering this difference in usage, we can summarize that ‘must’ refers to an internal need or obligation while ‘have to’ is used to refer to an external need or obligation. For the ease of usage however, keep in mind that ‘must’ can be replaced by ‘have to’ in most cases, but, ‘have to’ cannot often be replaced by ‘must’. ‘Must’ and ‘must not’ are often seen in official notices and instructions, e.g. ‘You must carry your passport at all times’ and ‘You must not smoke in public places. We also use must when we are certain that something is true. Here, we come to this conclusion by making a logical deduction based on evidence.

“The heating is not working. You must be freezing.”

“It must be nice to live in Paris.”

must vs have to

I have to go to school tomorrow.


A major difference can be noted between ‘must’ and ‘have to’ in the formation of negative. Though ‘have to’ and ‘must’ are similar in meaning and are often used interchangeably, the meanings of ‘do not have to’ and ‘must not’ are quite different. “You must not leave home.” means that you are obliged not to leave home, or you must stay home. But, “You don’t have to leave home.” means that you are not required to leave home. The first sentence indicates that you have an obligation to stay at home while the second indicates that you have no obligations to leave home. Observe the examples to clarify this difference.

Example 1:

You don’t have to tell him.

You must not tell him.

Example 2:

They must not forget this lesson.

They do not have to forget this lesson.

differnce between must and have to

You must not smoke in public places.


When talking about an action that has already happened or have not yet happened, we cannot use ‘must’. ‘Must’ is only used in present tense. But you can use ‘have to’ in both past and future tenses.

“I had to get up early yesterday.”

“I’ll have to clean the house, as my aunt is coming tomorrow.”

Difference Between Must and Have to


Must indicates an internal need or obligation. It is is also used to indicate deduction or speculation.

Have to indicates an external need or obligation.


Must is a modal verb and is used in formal, written language.

Have to is more often used in conversations.


Must is only used in the present tense.

Have to can be used in the past and future.

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