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Deber and regular ER verbs

Let’s start learning the verb Deber, which means *something* like “must”. This verb will also help us conjugate regular verbs that end with ER, so this episode lays a great foundation for conjugating lots more verbs!

Full Podcast Episode


Debemos hacer eso.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Now that we’ve learned a couple of regular verbs that end with AR, it’s time to learn another conjugation pattern. There are regular verbs in Spanish that follow very predictable patterns, but a different pattern than Hablar: Specifically, regular verbs that end with ER.

The most important of these verbs is Deber. We’ll spend two episodes on this verb, and then once you’ve learned how to conjugate it, you’ll be able to conjugate countless other regular ER verbs in Spanish.

Deber is most commonly used to mean something like “must”. And it tends to be used right before another verb. That’s true in English as well; if you use the word “must”, you’re probably putting it before another verb, for example “must do” or “must have” or “must be”. In that way, Deber is a lot like Poder; it’s what we call a modal verb, a verb that’s used right before another verb with some sort of meaning attached.

Now, when we learned Poder, we learned that instead of saying “I can do it”, Spanish speakers say something more like “I am able to do it”, or lo puedo hacer.

And this allows us to do some things that aren’t really possible in English. In the case of Poder, the equivalent English word, “can”, is really hard to conjugate in the future or the past. But Poder does have forms that apply to the past tense, the future tense, or any other tense.

The verb Deber is very similar. Compare the following sentences:

We want to do that.

Queremos hacer eso.

We are able to do that.

Podemos hacer eso.

We must do that.

Debemos hacer eso.

In each case we use hacer eso to refer to “doing that”, but in the first case we want to do it, in the second case we’re able to do it, and in the third case we must do it.

But you might notice something right away — we already have a way to say that we are obligated to do something. Listen to these two sentences in Spanish and compare the meanings:

Tenemos que hacer eso.

Debemos hacer eso.

These two sentences roughly mean the same thing, although they’re translated slightly differently. The first sentence is “we have to do that”, but the second is “we must do that”. Throughout today’s episode and tomorrow’s episode, we’ll not only learn all the conjugations of Deber, we’ll also discuss the nuanced ways to use Deber versus Tener que to indicate obligation.

Let’s start with the present tense conjugations of Deber. Most of them are based on debe, which is just Deber without the R at the end. So “he/she/usted must” is debe. The informal “you must” is debes. “They must” is deben. And “we must” is debemos.

The word for “I must” is debo. All regular verbs in Spanish have O at the end of the present-tense “I” form.

Notice that for all of these words, the stress is on the first syllable, “deb”, except for the “we must” conjugation, where the stress is on the second syllable: deBEmos.

Let’s go ahead and practice these, and we’ll also throw in a few examples of Tener que. So remember that any time the English says “must”, you’ll use a conjugation of Deber, but if you see “have to”, you’ll use a version of Tener que.

You must obey your mother.

Debes hacerle caso a tu madre.

I must have peace if I want to be happy.

Debo tener paz si quiero estar feliz.

This is not right, we must do something else.

Esto no está bien, debemos hacer algo más.

They must tell her that the food is good.

Deben decirle que la comida es buena. 

They have to be at that place at 3 in the afternoon.

Tienen que estar en ese lugar a las tres de la tarde.

If he doesn’t know it, then he must ask questions.

Si no lo sabe, entonces él debe hacer preguntas.

You don’t have to pass by that house.

No tienes que pasar por esa casa.

Let’s look at two more ways that Deber can be used. To make a strong negative order, you can say that someone “must not” do something. In Spanish, you simply use no followed by a form of Deber. For example:

You must not pass by here.

No debes pasar por aquí.

Deber can also be used for logical statements, the same way that we sometimes use “must” in English. Check out this sentence:

She must be around here!

¡Ella debe estar por aquí!

In this case, we’re not making an order or expressing an obligation; instead, we’re using our reasoning to determine that something MUST be the case. This is one of the ways Deber can be used.

Let’s go ahead and practice some negative orders and some logical inferences using our present-tense conjugations of Deber before we learn more conjugations in the next episode.

The police say that you must not go there at night.

La policía dice que no debes ir ahí en la noche.

We must not speak here.

No debemos hablar aquí.

Carlos must have done that.

Carlos debe haber hecho eso.

The car is not at the house anymore, they must be at the party.

El auto ya no está en la casa, deben estar en la fiesta.

A quick note about this logical use of Deber. Sometimes you might unexpectedly encounter de before the infinitive. For example:

They must be at the party.

Deben de estar en la fiesta.

This ONLY happens when Deber is used logically, not to express that someone must or must not do something. But in logical cases, it’s considered correct, and in fact some say that this is the right way to use Deber when Deber in logical statements. But the fact is that nowadays, the de is almost always left out in real-life usage; debe estar is much more common than debe de estar. That extra de is kind of like the word “whom” in English, which is technically the correct word to use in many specific situations, but most English speakers just use “who”. So in the quizzes, just be aware that sometimes this type of phrasing will use the de and sometimes it won’t, but whichever way you’re doing it, it’s correct if it’s a logical phrase.

All right, let’s practice with two more examples.

You (all) must not put that there.

No deben poner eso ahí.

Where is the money? // I don’t know, Pablo must have it.

¿Dónde está el dinero? // No sé, debe de tenerlo Pablo.

For more practice with any of this, feel free to dig deeper at LCSPodcast.com/106. Or if you’re ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.

Of course! If we must do it, we are going to go.

¡Claro! Si debemos hacerlo, vamos a ir.

Yikes, now I know it’s the end for them.

Ay, ya sé que es el fin para ellos.

All right, that wasn’t the best ending.

Bueno, ese no fue el mejor final.

Well, you know he must do it.

Pues, sabes que debe hacerlo.

Go ahead, you have to tell her she must go.

Dale, tienes que decirle que debe ir.

You must do what they tell you.

Debes hacer lo que ellos te dicen.

They must be here and we must be with them.

Ellos deben estar aquí y debemos estar con ellos.

We must go if they are not going to do it.

Debemos ir si ellos no van a hacerlo.

I must see what they are doing.

Debo ver lo que están haciendo.

He told me I must be there at that time.

Me dijo que debo estar ahí a esa hora.

Regarding that, he must actually do it.

En cuanto a eso, en verdad debe hacerlo.

You can’t be in the middle, you must leave.

No puedes estar en el medio, debes irte.

We must give him as much time as he wants.

Debemos darle cuanto tiempo quiera.

The more he does, the more he must do.

Cuanto más hace, más debe hacer.

Hmm, you mustn’t tell him the ending.

Eh, no debes decirle el final.

I must go to class now.

Debo ir a clase ahora.

I must have a small number of friends.

Debo tener unos cuantos amigos.

They must do as much work as they can.

Deben hacer cuanto trabajo puedan.

Go ahead, we must tell her.

Dale, debemos decirle.

They must go, and for that reason, you also must go.

Ellos deben ir, y por esa razón tú también debes ir.

Of course! The less you do, the better.

¡Claro! Cuanto menos hagas, mejor.

Ah! There are a couple here.

¡Ah! Hay un par aquí.

We know that a small number of men are going to pass by their house.

Sabemos que unos cuantos hombres van a pasar por su casa.

What you’re saying is not going to happen if you don’t do a couple of things first.

Lo que dices no va a pasar si no haces un par de cosas antes.

For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/106.

In tomorrow’s episode, we’ll learn the rest of the conjugations of Deber and practice using them with a wider variety of meanings.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. Our music was performed by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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