Recently I have come across the following two sentences in a test for Student's Book Activate Level A2 published by Pearson/Longman in 2010 by Joanne Taylore-Knowles: Has Naomi had to go? and Have they had to repeat the work?

I am not sure if it is grammatically correct, it just does not make sense or does it? If it were a modal verb I would be even more sure of it since modals cannot be used in present perfect but this verb is not an example of a standard modal verb; till now I have never encountered anything of the kind anywhere.

If it is grammatically correct, would you, please dwell on the shade of its meaning in the instances above.

  • 'Have' is not a modal verb because it can be used with other modal verbs in a single verb phrase and it has the secondary non-finite forms.
    – Zulkanien
    Oct 6, 2017 at 10:11
  • @Zulkanien I am aware that it is not a modal verb per se but they do include it in the group of modal verbs when they cover it in textbooks most of the times, same as 'used to', 'to be to' and 'to be able to'. And it is mentioned in the title that it is 'a modal equivalent'.
    – Yukatan
    Oct 6, 2017 at 10:20
  • 1
    "Be able to" is also found in the perfect, e.g. "I have been able to". "Have to" and "be able to" can also be preceded by modals ("I might have to", "she should be able to", "he will have to", "you would be able to") - which you can't do with modals. In short, there's a reason that these verbs shouldn't be regarded as true modals.
    – rjpond
    Oct 6, 2017 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


They are quasi modal in that they express a similar idea, but that's all. Some people don't like the term modal to be applied so willy-nilly.

Your examples use present perfect.

Naomi hasaux hadlex to go.

They have aux hadlex to repeat the work.

Naomi has to go. Naomi had to go. Naomi has had to go.

They have to complete the work. They had to complete the work. They have had to complete the work.

The shades of meaning are the normal differences between the simple past and the present perfect. The present perfect implies that the speaker feels the past fact has some bearing upon or relevance to the present context, even if that connection is no more than the mere recency of the past event.

Let's say that a department manager met with her manager to discuss staffing needs. They decide to reduce the weekly hours of two employees because of reduced demand for their product or something like that. In a later meeting with the two employees, the manager, with her manager sitting beside her, might say:

We have had to reduce your hours.

They could say "We have to reduce your hours", casting it as a thing that is to happen. But in choosing to use the present perfect, they do two things: they acknowledge that the matter is at hand with the present, and with the perfect they present the decision as a fait accompli.

The employees are visibly upset when they leave the meeting. After they leave, the boss says to the manager:

We had to reduce their hours. There was no other choice, given the slump in our sales.

There, the decision is described with the simple past. It is over and done with.

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