Is there any difference between the following two statements:

  1. I have to pay bills
  2. I have bills to pay

Could you please tell us the difference between the above two statements and when to use them?

  • This question might be better on our sister site English Language Learners. But 1. You have to [= must] pay the bills. 2. You have [got] some bills and you need to pay them sometime [= not necessarily urgent].
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 23:16
  • 2
    Yes. (1) contains the idiom have to /hæftə/, meaning 'must'; the object of have to is the infinitive clause (for me) to pay bills. In (2), the verb is have, meaning 'possess'; the object of have is the noun phrase bills to pay, which contains a relative infinitive to pay modifying bills. So (1) says you must pay bills, but doesn't say anything about whether you have any bills that need paying. (2) says you do have such bills. Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 23:16

2 Answers 2


Both sentences could be used as excuses for not doing something else. If a son comes to his father, for example, and asks, "Dad, can you come outside and play catch with me?" the father might say,

"Sorry, son, I have to pay bills."


"Sorry, son, I have bills to pay."

Either sentence would be appropriate in this instance.

On the other hand, your first sentence could have an urgency to it that is lacking in your second sentence.

"I have to pay bills" = "I must pay bills [or else!]"


"I have bills to pay" = "I have bills to pay [; no big deal]"

See if you can tell which of the following sentences contains an element of urgency:

"I have a meeting with Bill."


"I have to meet with Bill."

If you picked the second one, you're right. The use of "have to" usually indicates the urgent, mandatory nature of things.

In the U.S. you can pay your yearly income taxes anytime between January 1 and April 14, but you "have to" pay your taxes by April 15, unless you want to get in trouble with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service)!


The first:

I have to pay bills.

Means that you need to/should pay bills (ownership is implied).

The second:

I have bills to pay.

indicates that you do in fact own debt that you need to pay off.

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