Mexican X-plainer: Haya vs. Haiga

You will perhaps know that Spanish LOVES its subjunctive mood (used to express doubt, wish, some sort of counterfactual thought). Mostly its construction is easy: you just changing a vowel

  • Cantas, you sing.
  • Quiero que cantes, I want you to sing.

But some verbs have irregular subjunctives. Like “haber” (either the auxiliar “have” or “for something to exist”) which gives us the form “haya-”

Or [gasp!] “haiga-.”

Nothing marks you as a “naco” (redneck or poor person) faster than saying, “No creo que haiga [x].” People will fall all over themselves to correct you. “It’s HAYA.”

But why? Where did “haiga” emerge if it’s so wrong? Why do SO MANY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE use it?

Let me explain.

Some irregular Spanish forms (and non-standard ones) are due to the analogical extension of different phonological phenomena (i.e. sound changes) that arose during the evolution of Latin into Spanish.

That’s what happened with the insertion of -g- into “haya.”

You see, there is a stem-final “g” (a velar consonant, to be fancy about it) found in the first-person present indicative and all the present subjunctive forms of three major verbs: hacer (first person hago, from Latin fac[i]o), decir (digo, from dico) and yacer (yago, from iac[e]o). Their subjunctive forms all had hag- or dig- or yag- as the stems (que hagas, que digamos, que yagan, etc.)

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Some really old Spanish writing, just for kicks.

As Old and Medieval Spanish arose, these were very common verbs, so folks began to make a logical assumption:

“Ah! With -ir/-er verbs, we stick a -g- at the end of the stem for first person singular (present indicative) and all present subjunctive forms. Got it!”

As a result, that -g- was added to verbs whose stems hadn’t evolved to end in a “g,” like venir (original first person “venio”) and tener (teneo), giving us “vengo” and “tengo.”

(I’m betting arrogant assholes back then hated that extension, too.)

The first verbs that transformed via this analogical extension were the ones with stems ending in /n/. So “poner” originally had the first person “poneo,” but it became “pongo.”

The phonological virus spread to verbs ending in /ɾ/, /s/ and /l/ (valer -> valgo, salir -> salgo, etc.)

Finally the virus reached verb stems ending in “y” (written /j/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA). These verbs (traer, caer, raer, etc.) usually had just a vowel before the infinitive ending (often because an intervocalic consonant in Latin had been dropped as the word evolved).

Included here is haber. Now, in its impersonal form “for there to exist,” the verb doesn’t have a first person conjugation. But it did have the present subjunctive stem: “hay-”

Spanish speakers added a -g.



Let’s see how this worked. Some examples. In Medieval Spanish before the “velar insertion virus,” these were the forms:

Quiero que traya (Latin trahat, from trahere)
Quiero que caya (L. cada, from cadere)
Quiero que raya (L. rādat, from rādere)
Quiero que haya (L. habeat, from habēre)

As you can see, all these verbs had originally dropped the intervocalic Latin consonant and made stems ending in a “y” sound.

But with the velar insertion, look what emerged:

Quiero que traiga (used now)
Quiero que caiga (used now)
Quiero que raiga (used now)
Quiero que haya (used now, but considered “uncouth”)

Now, there are many who will cry “it’s an archaism!” Y’all can kiss my ass.

In a recent study, 35% of Mexicans were found to use “haiga” instead of “haya.” That’s not just some random use of a outdated form.

That’s a PRESENT-DAY WORD. As a descriptive linguist, I say “haiga” is a common variant of “haya.”

In fact, as “haya” is the older form, those who insist on “speaking correctly” should ask themselves whether they are using an archaism (given their apparent definition of one).

The same study (which I’ll cite below) points out “haiga, vaiga, huiga, and occasionally veiga, as present subjunctive forms of haber, ir, huir and ver, [are] found all over the Spanish-speaking world.”

That virus is strong. You can’t fight it, heh.

Espero que no haiga dudas.


Johnson, M. & S. Barnes. 2013. Haya vs. Haiga: An Analysis of the Variation Observed in Mexican Spanish Using a Mixed Effects Model. In Selected Proceedings of the 6th Workshop on Spanish Sociolinguistics, ed. Ana M. Carvalho and Sara Beaudrie, 32–40. Appendix.

Addendum. We almost had many more of these -g- roots, but competing paradigms won out. Here are some examples (taken from A History of the Spanish Language by Ralph John Penny).

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Adenda en español. Para los que insisten en que ‘haya’ suena mejor: no. Lo que pasa es que están acostumbrados a una variante y no la otra. Es mera subjetividad. Para los que hemos crecido con “haiga”, suena a familia y calor humano, a lo sencillo y lindo de la vida.

Igual que “y’all” en inglés.

A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

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