Apprendre la Langue Française (100e partie): le verbe–devoir (usage et conjugaison au présent)


Source: french.about.com

Devoir is one of the most common French verbs. It is irregular in conjugation and has a number of different meanings related to concepts like obligation and probability.

1. Obligation and necessity

    Dois-tu étudier ce soir ?
    Do you have to study tonight?
    Elles doivent manger.
    They must / need to eat.

2. Probability and supposition

    Il doit rentrer avant le dîner
    He should / will probably be back before dinner
    Nous devons gagner plus cette année
    We should earn more this year.
    Elle doit être à l’école
    She must be at school

3. Expectation and intention

    Je devais aller avec eux
    I was supposed to go with them.
    Il devait le faire, mais il a oublié
    He was supposed to do it, but he forgot

4. Fatalism and inevitability

    Il devait perdre un jour
    He had to / was bound to lose one day
    Elle ne devait pas l’entendre avant lundi
    She wasn’t to hear it until Monday

Translating devoir
Devoir can be translated by should, must, ought to, have to, supposed to – the distinction between necessity and probability is not always clear:

    Je dois faire la lessive
    I should/must/have to do the laundry
    Il doit arriver demain
    He is supposed to / should / has to arrive tomorrow

To specify “must” rather than “should,” add a word like absolument or vraiment:

    Je dois absolument partir
    I really have to go
    Nous devons vraiment te parler
    We must speak to you

To specify “should” rather than “must,” use the conditional:

    Tu devrais partir
    You should leave.
    Ils devraient lui parler
    They should talk to him.

To say that something that “should have” happened, use the conditional perfect of devoir plus the infinitive:

    Tu aurais dû manger
    You should have eaten.
    J’aurais dû étudier
    I should have studied.

Devoir as a transitive verb
When used transitively (and thus not followed by a verb), devoir means “to owe”:

    Combien est-ce qu’il te doit ?
    How much does he owe you?
    Pierre me doit 10 francs
    Pierre owes me 10 francs

Conjugations
Present tense

    je dois
    tu dois
    il doit
    nous devons
    vous devez
    ils doivent
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