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Gerald Erichsen

Habemus of Latin and habemos of Spanish

By April 20, 2005

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While watching the pageantry of the papal memorials and selection on TV in the past few days, I've been struck by how much of the Latin I could understand, at least in part. That shouldn't be surprising — Spanish isn't called a Latin language for nothing, and a great deal of English vocabulary is derived from Latin as well.
 
It is interesting to note that the oft-repeated two words of the papal announcement — habemus papam, we have a pope — were left untranslated in most of the Spanish-language news articles in recent days, presumably because many Spanish-language readers (who, by the way, are overwhelmingly Catholic) would understand what is meant. Of course, the verb in that sentence, habemus, is almost exactly the same as the Spanish equivalent, habemos.
 
¿Habemos? you may ask. These days, the first-person plural form of haber is hemos, an irregular conjugation, so you won't hear habemos in everyday speech. But the form habemos still exists in modern Spanish even if it isn't listed in most dictionaries (or if it is listed, is described as archaic).
 
It is most common in speech that would be considered substandard in some areas: Habemos cuatro gringos aquí. (There are four us gringos here.) It is also sometimes used in speech to mean "we have," as in this recent quote from a Mexican newspaper: "Es conocimiento del propio Gobierno que habemos más de 12 millones de micros y pequeños empresarios. (Our own government knows that we have more than 12 million owners of tiny and small businesses.) Again, such use would be considered substandard in many areas, so it's best not to use this verb form unless you know what you're doing and what meaning you intend to convey.

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