In these contexts, haver is an impersonal verb, meaning that it doesn’t take a particular subject and is always used in the present tense form of the third-person conjugation: há Play slow audio Play normal audio
Normally há means there is or there are. However, when há is used before words that express an amount of time, you can think of it more like the word ago (which in English is placed after a time-related phrase) or as standing in for other phrases that indicate a certain amount of time has passed.
The phrase construction is pretty straightforward:
Há + Amount of Time Passed
Comprei esta caneta há uma semana. Play slow audio Play normal audio I bought this pen a week ago.
Há cinquenta anos, a Internet não existia. Play slow audio Play normal audio Fifty years ago, the Internet didn't exist.
O avião aterrou há dois minutos. Play slow audio Play normal audio The airplane landed two minutes ago.
As piscinas fecharam há cinco minutos. Play slow audio Play normal audio The pools closed five minutes ago.
Há muito que não comia panquecas assim. Play slow audio Play normal audio I haven't had pancakes like those in a long time.
Estou à espera do cartão há seis meses. Play slow audio Play normal audio I've been waiting for that card for six months.
Similarly, haver can be used to ask how long something has been going on for. Examples:
Há quanto tempo estás à espera? Play slow audio Play normal audio How long have you been waiting for?
Está a chover há muito? Play slow audio Play normal audio Has it been raining for long?
Notice that há by itself means nothing – it always requires a quantifier (muito, pouco, algum, etc.) or a specific amount of time (seis minutos, dois meses, vinte anos, etc.).
Usage in European vs. Brazilian Portuguese
There’s another word that Portuguese speakers (of both dialects) use in similar contexts. The word atrás Play slow audio Play normal audio behind usually translates to behind, but in the context of time, it means ago. The usage is a little bit different in each dialect:
- European Portuguese speakers often use há and atrás together in the same construction: há + amount of time + atrás. Not only does this sound redundant, it’s also incorrect and you should avoid using this combination of words.
Eles chegaram há uma hora atrás. Play slow audio Play normal audio They arrived one hour ago.
Houve and Havia
The forms houve and havia can also be used to talk about the past. For example:
Houve uma explosão Play slow audio Play normal audio There was an explosion
Havia um parque aqui Play slow audio Play normal audio There was a park here, There used to be a park here