Teaching English: Must Versus Have to

So, I’m an assistant English teacher.  That’s my job.  In fact, more specifically my job is to be a native speaker of English to provide my students with exposure and the chance to interact with a real L1 (First Language) English speaker.  It also means I occasionally run into difficulties that the Japanese teachers don’t anticipate.  When you learn a 2nd language in school, at least in Japan, it’s mostly done by teaching a series of grammatical rules and drilling vocabulary which you can use to fill in the spaces of those rules.  Unfortunately the basis for those rules is often suspect or at least not really firmly rule-like.  Grammar should really be considered a set of guidelines, since people are always mangling them into newly invented monsters.  The monsters lose their hanging chads and polish off their rough edges over the course of time and use, but they’ll eventually change again anyway.


This brings me to the problem at hand: Please make an activity to help the students distinguish between “must” and “have to.

それでは、今の困っていること。英語の文法の中から「must」と「have to」の区別の活動を作ることが頼まれた。

At first I thought, oh, sure, no problem.  That’s cake!  Wait. Wait.  What is the difference?  Anytime you could use “must”, “have to” seemed possible as well.  In some cases one seemed more likely than the other but I had a hard time figuring out the reasoning.  It turns out it’s quite a complicated issue in the present tense of the two forms.  I had trouble figuring out what to think of my own use until I found a nice tidy little description that just about nails my perspective on it, in my own use anyway.  The English Page, one of the first google results I got was very helpful.  They have a wonderful description of must which reminded me that in the past tense and negative forms of these modal verbs they are grammatically quite different.

最初に、「はー、簡単だ!」と思ったけど、ちょっと考えたら「えっ。。。どう違う?」と困ってきた。「must」を使う時は「have to」も使えるだろうと思った。ある場合「must」か「have to」かどちのほうはもっと適切なので、私は理由よく分からなかった。実はこのことは英語のかなり難しい所だ。やっと、綺麗な説明を見つけた。

I ended up deciding to not attempt to have the students make distinctions between “must” and “have to” in the present affirmative and instead to just do a very simple group presentation, followed by an individual speaking exercise if time permits:


In groups come up with a script composed of: “I have to/must _____”, “You must not _____”, and “You don’t have to _____ ”. Each member of the group must say one of the lines. Then the group must explain what the script means in Japanese.

班で「I have to/must _____」と「You must not _____」と「You don’t have to _____」を使って生徒を小演奏させる。班のメンバーの全人が何か言わなければならない。そしたら、言ったことの意味を日本語で説明する。

If there is time, everyone individually must explain an obligation or necessity they had in the past with “I had to ______”

時間が余ったら、皆で一里ずつ過去形の「 had to ______」を使って、過去のことについて発表する。

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.



1 Comment

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One response to “Teaching English: Must Versus Have to

  1. Pingback: Teaching English: Must Versus Have to « a new flavor of evil | TEFL Japan

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