Did you know that we use the same verb in French to express must and should?

Et oui, only one verb: devoir.

Sometimes devoir means must and sometimes it means should. And how are you supposed to know which one to use? Because I’m about to tell you!

 

My dear friends, it is grammar time. If you love grammar, this will be easy for you. If you don’t love grammar, you’re missing out. Trust me.

More precisely it is conjugation time. And just to make sure you’re all following me, there are:

1- Verbs such as manger, lire, marcher, etc.

2- Tenses such as present, past, future, etc.

3- Moods such as indicatif, impératif, subjonctif, and conditionnel.

Verbs, tenses, moods. Still following?

Today we shall focus on one verb, devoir, and 2 moods, indicative and conditional.

 

What is the indicative mood? Wikipedia tells us the indicative mood is used for factual statements and positive beliefs. For instance, it rained yesterday, that’s a fact. I’m going to the gym, that’s also a fact. They won’t win the election, that’s a belief. Get it. That’s the indicative mood.

What is the conditional mood? Wikipedia tells us the conditional mood is used for speaking of an event whose realization is dependent upon another condition. In English it’s expressed by the word would. For instance, I would have more dogs if I lived in the countryside.

To simplify, one is real, I grew up in France, one is hypothetical, if I did then I would.

 

And now to our magic verb devoir that can mean either must or should. It’s very simple. It means must or have to in the indicative mood. It means should in the conditional mood. Here is a link to the full conjugation of the verb devoir. If you have a visual memory it will help you remember it!

Examples:

Je dois partir: I must leave because dois is indicatif présent
Je devrais partir: I should leave because devrais is conditionnel présent

 

Nous devrons partir tôt demain matin: We’ll have to leave early tomorrow morning because devrons is indicatif futur
Nous devrions partir tôt demain matin: We should leave early tomorrow morning because devrions is conditionnel présent

 

Ils devaient aller à l’église chaque dimanche: they had to go to church every Sunday because devaient is indicatif
Ils auraient dû aller à l’église chaque dimanche: they should have gone to church every Sunday because auraient dû is conditionnel passé

 

Elle doit m’écrire: she must write to me because doit is indicatif présent
Elle devrait m’écrire: she should write to me because devrait is conditionnel présent

 

Makes sense? One verb, two meanings!

Can you think of some examples and add them in the comments below?

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