German Language Blog

The German Phrase ‘Ich Habe Zu Tun’ Posted by on Oct 20, 2021 in Language

Guten Tag! Today we’re going to look at a slightly unusual-sounding phrase in the German language. Maybe you’ve come across this phrase before, but thought a word was missing, or that it didn’t sound quite right. The phrase in question is this one: Ich habe zu tun.

ich habe zu tun

Ich habe zu tun. Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Ich habe zu tun

This phrase, literally translated, means, ‘I have to do’. Habe comes from the verb haben- to have, and tun is a verb meaning ‘to do’. Before we move on, let’s take a look at the present tense conjugation of the verb tun, as this itself is a slightly unusual-looking verb:

Tun – to do

Ich tue – I do
Du tust – You do (informal)
Er/sie/es tut – He/she/it does
Wir tun – We do
Ihr tut – You do (informal;plural)
Sie tun – You do (formal)
sie tun – They do

This verb can be confusing as most people learn machen as the verb meaning to do (or to make), not tun. Though there are cases where these can be used interchangeably, there are also several exceptions. If you would like an entire post on the difference between tun and machen, let me know in a comment below.

Now, back to the phrase Ich habe zu tun. This phrase means ‘I have something to do’ or ‘I’m busy’. And believe it or not, it’s a perfectly complete phrase on its own, even though it sounds like a word is missing in between ‘habe’ and ‘zu’. You wouldn’t say ‘I have to do’ in English, but ‘I have something to do’ or ‘I have lots to do’, for example. However, in German, you can say ich habe zu tun, and that makes perfect sense on its own.


Entschuldigung, ich habe zu tun.
Excuse me, I have something to do.

Vielen Dank, aber ich habe zu tun.
Thank you, but I’m busy.

Ich kann nicht, ich habe zu tun.
I can’t, I’m busy.


On the other hand – and this may be another reason it’s confusing to learners – you absolutely can put a word in between ‘habe’ and ‘zu’, and have the sentence mean the same thing, albeit with a bit more detail. Here are some example sentences, so you can see what I mean:

Ich habe viel zu tun.
I have a lot to do.

Ich habe noch etwas zu tun.
I still have something to do.

Ich habe nichts zu tun.
I have nothing to do.

Ich habe Besseres zu tun.
I have something better to do.

Ich habe Wichtigeres zu tun.
I have more important things to do.

Ich habe zu viel zu tun.
I have too much to do.

Ich habe genug zu tun.
I have enough to do.

ich habe zu tun

Ich habe VIEL zu tun. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Perhaps a good way to think about this phrase is that ‘Ich habe zu tun’ is saying you’re busy in simple, straight-forward terms (ie. if you want to decline an invitation, or end a conversation quickly), but including one of the above words (viel; noch etwas; nichts; Besseres; Wichtigeres; genug) is a way of adding detail.

Have you ever come across this phrase before now? I hope this post has helped clear up any confusion you may have had about it!

Bis bald,

PS. If you liked this post, you might also like this one: 7 Ways To Say Sorry In German

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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


  1. Mark:

    Vielen Danke, Constanze, ja ich würde sehr gerne den Unterschied zwischen tun und machen wissen!

  2. Martin:

    Hi Constanze – thanks for sharing the knowledge!! I really like your articles. I would like to take you up on your offer to for an entire post on tun vs machen. thanks!!

  3. Mark Bauer:

    Das ist die erste Zeit, dass ich diesen Satzteil gehört habe. Spaß. Danke. Lebe deinen Blog!

  4. Bron:

    Thank you for this handy phrase. I would like to read more about the difference between tun and machen sometime please.

  5. Michael:

    Thank you! Another very useful post. A post on when to use Tun vs Machen, would be great.

  6. Wayne:

    “If you would like an entire post on the difference between tun and machen, let me know in a comment below.”

    Yes please! This has been driving me nuts for about a year.

  7. Adam:

    Yes, it would be great to read a post about the differences between “machen” and “tun”.

  8. Wendell Hunnicutt:

    I would enjoy knowing a better differentiation between tun and machen.
    I always enjoy and learn from your blogs.