I had never seen the construct "avoir à faire qch" until just now, not in 6 years of studying French. I didn't think the English expression "to have to do something" had a literal French equivalent. Normally I always see the use of devoir instead.

Is this expression common? Does it mean the same thing? What is the difference, if any, between these two phrases?

Je dois partir.
J'ai à partir.

  • 4
    in my experience the second is something you hear much more often in the negative: "on n'a qu'à.... il n'y à qu'à..." to mean "the only thing we have to do is..." or in a non-standard register, "y a qu'à" for the same.
    – hunter
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 14:16
  • True! Now that you point it out, I see that phrasing all the time! Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 16:07

3 Answers 3


Both sentences have the same meaning. However, the first one is more common.

Definition of "avoir à" :

Devoir faire quelque chose, être dans l'obligation de : J'ai à régler quelques détails.

Source : Larousse.fr


Je dois partir.

Il est de mon devoir de partir, c'est une contrainte à laquelle je dois me soumettre.

J'ai à partir.

J'ai [quelque chose] à faire qui est une tournure correcte, entre dans le langage familier lorsque le verbe d'action est changé --> J'ai à partir, s'emploie surtout à l'oral en France.

  • 1
    J'ai à boire je veux bien, mais ça a un autre sens. J'ai à partir je ne crois pas l'avoir jamais entendu. Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 12:56

It's a good question

I'm French. (my apologies for inevitable mistakes.) Of course some differences exist, but thinking about it, I don't succeed in finding a general rule for "devoir" or "avoir à". Like in English with "must" and "have to."

Regarding avoir à faire qqch, I don't have the impression that there is any difference between that and to have to do.

You're right, though, it's not common. Usually, we say avoir qqch à faire.

Hum...I think we do this inversion often when the sentence is longer, when there are qualifications to "qqch"~

"J'ai des choses à faire"


"J'ai à faire des choses qui/que..."
"J'ai à faire des choses que"

In the past tense, it sounds better.

J'ai eu à faire certaines choses que...

I think that's to avoid breaking the continuity of the sentence.

J'ai eu à faire des/certaines recherches que mes camarades avaient négligées.

Of course, else you can say:

J'ai eu des recherches à faire, que mes camarades avaient négligées."

Notice I used a comma.

As "hunter" said on a precedent post, we use this turn with "juste" or "ne + que":

Tu as juste à faire ce qu'on te dit (de faire)

Parfait ! Il n'a plus qu'à signer.

Maintenant, on n'a plus qu'à attendre
Maintenant, on a juste à attendre

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