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Devoir and its many facets

The verb « devoir » = to must, to have

The verb “devoir” is an irregular verb with various meanings.

  • Je dois
  • Tu dois
  • Il/elle doit
  • Nous devons
  • Vous devez
  • Ils/ells doivent


1st meaning : the notion of debt in the literal and figurative meanings :

  • Combien est-ce que je vous dois? = How much do I owe you ?
  • Elle me doit 1000€ ? = She owes me a thousand euros.
  • Je vous dois quelque chose ? = Do I owe you anything ?
  • Il doit sa vie à son chirurgien = He owes his life to his surgeon

2nd meaning : devoir as an obligation

  • Vous devez assister à la réunion = you must attend the meeting
  • L’enfant doit obéir à ses parents = The child must obey his parents
  • Vous ne devez pas y aller = You must not go there

3rd meaning : devoir as a probability

  • L’avion doit atterrir à 10h = the plane is supposed to land at 10 O’clock
  • Son livre doit sortir la semaine prochaine = Her book is supposed to be published next week.

The voice intonation will often determine if devoir implies an obligation or a probability.

For example : il doit venir ce soir = il could mean : he is supposed to come tonight or He must come tonight. So pay attention to the intonation and the gestures.

Devoir in the conditional is used as a warning or a suggestion. It takes the meaning of should.

  • Je devrais
  • Tu devrais
  • Il devrait
  • Nous devrions
  • Vous devriez
  • Elles devraient
  • Example : Tu ne devrais pas lui prêter d’argent = You should not lend him any money
  • Elles devraient apprendre une langue étrangère = They should learn a foreign language.


Now you’re ready to practice !


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