Have to … Don’t have to

Hello all you hard-working English students!  

It’s time for some more grammar! The last few posts have been about  watching videos and reading, but it’s time for more English grammar, so let’s go!

Not surprisingly, I will be using songs to highlight grammar usage and I’m going to focus mainly on two very common verb expressions: have to  &  don’t have to

Have to is not hard to understand is it? The meaning is similar to the Modal Verbs should or must

Have to is similar to must, BUT don’t have to  is NOT similar to mustn’t

♦ must =  a rule
♦ You must smoke outside. This is a rule. You have no choice.

♦ mustn’t = not allowed / a rule
♦ You mustn’t smoke inside the house.  This is a rule. You have no choice.

♦ have to = should / it’s necessary
♦ You have to smoke outside. You have no choice.

♦ don’t have to = not necessary  &/or  you have a choice               
♦ You don’t have to pay for the Internet. It’s not necessary because it’s free.          

♦ You don’t have to cook dinner for everyone. It’s not necessary. You have a choice.      You can if you want to.                                                   

Have a look at the  Peanuts cartoon on the left.

The message is that it is not necessary to be great if you want to start something, BUT it is necessary to start if you want to be great.


Now, we’re going to look at a song by James Morrison called ‘I won’t let you go’. It features the expression ‘don’t have to’ in the chorus, twice. 

From what I can understand of the song, James is trying to help a woman he loves who perhaps is feeling depressed, sad, hopeless or unloved. The name of the song makes this clear. He won’t forget her; he will support her. If you watch the video, you will see a woman who is so upset that she can’t stand. She falls down in the street and stays there. He finds her and lies down with her. 

His message to her is very clear. She has choices. She may feel alone but he is there to help her.                           

♦ Chorus #1
If there’s love just feel it
And if there’s life, we’ll see it.
This is no time to be alone, alone yeah.
I won’t let you go.

♦ Chorus #2
If your sky is falling,

Just take my hand and hold it.
You don’t have to be alone.
I won’t let you go.

Click here for the official video.     Click here for a video with lyrics.


My next song by Goyte called ‘Somebody that I used to know’ is very different. The singer is angry about the choices that his ex-girlfriend has made. He feels that they were unnecessary and mean-spirited.                                   

♦ Chorus
But you didn’t have to *cut me off,

Make out like it never happened
And that we were nothing,
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger
And that feels so rough.
No you didn’t have to *stoop so low;
Have your friends collect your records
And then change your number.
I guess that I don’t need that though.
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.


*cut me off = end the relationship suddenly and stop talking to me
          Goyte is saying the it was not necessary to end the relationship like that. She had                   choices. She chose to do the wrong thing.

*stoop so low = behave badly
          Again, he is saying that she had choices and she chose to behave badly. It was not               necessary

Click here for Goyte’s original video.

Click here for Goyte’s video with lyrics.

Click here for a cover version by Walk Off The Earth with lyrics.


This entry was posted in Grammar, Intermediate (Level 4), Pre-Intermediate (Level 3), Songs, TOEFL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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