Some people, like Neville, had paid up just to stop Hermione from glowering at them. A few seemed mildly interested in what she had to say, but were reluctant to take a more active role in campaigning. Many regarded the whole thing as a joke.

The clause might be parsed either "[what she had] [to say]" or "what she [had to] say" in my opinion. If we take "had to" together for comprehending, I think it might have a different meaning other than 'must'. I found this dictionary definition might fit for this context:

have to: used to suggest that an annoying event happens in order to annoy you, or that sb does sth in order to annoy you.

Is it what it's supposed to mean in this context? How should we understand it?

  • the idiom is: to have something to say
    – Lambie
    Dec 13, 2018 at 20:36
  • 1
    another idiom: to have to say something. This "what" could be either the object of "had" or the object of "to say", but the two idiomatic expressions carry different semantics. We can't tell which semantics are more appropriate from the grammar alone. Dec 13, 2018 at 22:04

2 Answers 2


Certainly there are many uses of the verb "have", but in this case it's close to its fundamental meaning of ownership, e.g. "Hermione has a pet cat". We can rephrase it as:

Hermione had a lot to say (on the subject of house-elf rights).

The subordinate clause "what [you] have to say" is a kind of idiomatic expression. It can be used in various contexts:

You come home late from school and covered in mud! What do you have to say for yourself, young man? (= "how do you defend your condition and actions")

In her speech, what she had to say was certainly interesting, but delivered in such a monotone that half her audience was asleep before she reached her conclusion. (= "the things she chose to say were interesting but the speech itself was boring")

Compare this with the imperative form of "have":

Hermione felt that she had to say something on the subject of house-elf rights. (= "she was compelled to speak on the subject")

  • Any time that "what you have to say" is being used imperatively?
    – dan
    Dec 13, 2018 at 15:17
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    @dan Yes, but it would depend on context. "Hermione resented being forced to make an apology. She did not truly mean what she had to say." However, the sentence would be much clearer as "She did not truly mean what she was obligated to say." or something similar.
    – Tashus
    Dec 13, 2018 at 16:12
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    @dan As Tashus says, authors use all kinds of convoluted and clever verbiage, so it's certainly possible -- but without a lot of supporting context it would probably be confusing. Because it's a common expression I expect most native speakers would first read it the usual way, realize something was off, and then go back to re-read it.
    – Andrew
    Dec 13, 2018 at 18:55

The collocation is to have something to say.

She has something to say.

That is, she wants to say something. That "something" is what she has to say.

OK, let's hear what she has to say. I'm mildly interested in what she has to say.

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