July 23, 2014

The Many Uses of “Infinitive + होना”

In Hindi, there is a very common idiom involving an infinitive and a form of the verb होना, for instance “मुझे जाना है“, or “अगर तुम्हें जाना हो तो मुझे बताओ“.

This idiom is very flexible; it can have many different translations in English, depending on the context, although each is related. The typical translations are as follows:

  • “Have to …”
  • “Want to …”
  • “Going to …”
  • “Supposed to / Ought to…”
  • “Are to …”

For instance: “मुझे जाना है” could mean “I have to go” in a certain context. “मुझे गुलाब जामुन खाना है” would probably mean “I want to eat gulab jamun”. “मुझे कुछ तो कहना था लेकिन भूल गया” would mean “I was going to say something, but I forgot”. “तुम्हें अपने भाई को नहीं मारना (है)” could mean “You are not to hit your brother!” or “You shouldn’t hit your brother!”, etc. (although it is perhaps not very common in this usage). अगर तुम्हें जाना हो तो मुझे बताओ would mean “If you want to go, then tell me”. So, this idiom is very flexible and useful. From the context, it will usually be clear which sense is intended.

Note that some people might omit the form of होना when the sentence is negated, just like most speakers do with other verb forms, e.g. someone might say “मुझे नहीं जाना” to mean “I don’t want to go”.