Is it more usual to say " Must you wear a uniform ?" or " Do you have to wear a uniform?" I understand the ( slight) differences between must and have to in the affirmative form, but does this difference exist in the interrogative form, as well. Thank you for your answer!

2 Answers 2


To my ear there are the following distinctions.

The first is often used as an admonishing rhetorical question

Must you wear a uniform? - it is inappropriate to wear a uniform here at this time. It is upsetting the veteran in the corner. Please take it off

The second sounds like a normal question

Do you have to wear a uniform? - Are you obliged to wear a uniform for this occasion?

As mentioned by Janus in the comment, the second can also be used as the admonition the first implies:

Do you have to wear a uniform? - Why not just wear normal clothes like everybody else.

A reference:


We use the question form of must in criticisms:
Must you keep playing that terrible music?Cambridge

  • 1
    Note that do you have to can also mean the first, whereas must you very rarely means the second. If using do you have to for both the first and second, the meanings can be distinguished by intonation: “Do you have to wear a ˈuniform?” is neutral and asks whether a uniform is required for some occasion; “Do you ˈhave to wear a uniform?” is emphatic and shows annoyance at the other person insisting on wearing a uniform. Apr 22, 2015 at 11:16
  • Yes, I agree. I have updated my answer
    – mplungjan
    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:18
  • I don't see how the word choice is the driver here. For example, if I'm sitting next to someone in a bus with loud music on the headphones, I might ask "Do you have to have that so load?" - this is an admonishing rhetorical question, not a normal one and it is driven by the tone of speaking, not the word choice. Choosing "must" is not going to make that more clear. Personally I think "must" simply sounds more formal, that's all. Occasionally when people here extra formality when they're not expecting it, they assume it means some kind of sarcasm.
    – Brandin
    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:42
  • @Brandin Word choice is not irrelevant here. If you said to your loud-musicked neighbour, “Must you have that so loud?”, you’d be perceived as a bit formal perhaps, or just as an old curmudgeon. Both work fine, one is just a bit more old-fashioned. But if you’d asked the woman standing next to you while waiting for the bus whether tickets should be stamped before boarding the bus, “Do we have to stamp our tickets before we get on?” would be perfectly normal, while “Must we stamp our tickets before we get on?” makes you sound like you were born in the 18th century. Much bigger difference. Apr 22, 2015 at 12:02
  • @Brandin To put it more clearly: in the admonishing sense, both are valid constructions, one just a bit old-fashioned. In the ‘neutral’ sense of obligation, have to is normal and valid, while must is borderline invalid, highly archaic, and exceedingly rare in normal conversation. Apr 22, 2015 at 12:04

As pointed out here, Michael Swan, Practical English Usage indicates:

Both verbs can be used in British English to talk about obligation. (In American English, have to is the normal form.) British English often makes a distinction as follows.

Must is used mostly to talk about the feelings and wishes of the speaker and hearer for example, to give or ask for orders.

Have (got) to is used mostly to talk about obligations that come from "outside" for example from laws, regulations, agreements and other people's orders.

Also, "Must you" is much more formal and as such rarely heard in speech, esp in AmE {SPOK at COCA} these days.



in [SPOK]

52 hits


in [SPOK]

0 hits

I am using the "." as part of the query to look only for sentence starts.


. must you


3 results


. do you have to

times me out and I'm talking to the Webmaster about it:-)]

For more information on usage, check this grammar forum discussion:

'have to' vs 'must'

  • Although I did not down vote, I also disagree that "Must you" is rarely heard. I still hear it often on TV and in newer movies and books
    – mplungjan
    Apr 22, 2015 at 11:19
  • Let me quote "In the ‘neutral’ sense of obligation, have to is normal and valid, while must is borderline invalid, highly archaic, and exceedingly rare in normal conversation. – Janus Bahs Jacquet" Apr 22, 2015 at 12:33
  • 1
    In the US, use of Must you VP? as a complaint and request to stop VPing is an affectation. It sounds too much like the British expression, which is extremely U and, to an American ear (at least one that's listened to BBC dramas), the construction sounds too much like the speaker is assuming airs, so it really is uncommon, except when pretending to be a Brit. Apr 22, 2015 at 13:30

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