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All About Devoir

Everything you need to know about the irregular French verb devoir

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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 of devoir

Present tense

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

All tenses
 

Devoir as a noun

Devoir is also a masculine noun. Le devoir means "duty," while les devoirs can mean "duties" or "homework."
 
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