Duties and Obligations. The subtle difference between Deber y Tener que.

Deber y Tener que. The subtle difference between duties and obligations.

Regardless of the language in which we are expressing, the issue of being able to differentiate what “must be done” and what “has to be done” has always been a cause for questioning between the different viewpoints from which the duties and obligations of the people are analyzed.




But as we are trying to learn a language and not philosophy, we will try to simplify the concepts and leave for everyone the decision to comply, in one way or another, with the provisions, laws, regulations, inspirations, motivations, duties and obligations.

The term “Deber” and its meanings.

In Spanish, the word “deber” has two fundamental uses. As a noun, it is equivalent to the words “duty“, “task“, “job“, etc. and represents, as in English, the obligations or responsibilities that a person requires to do to comply with a collection.duties and obligations

It can be expressed as singular: “deber“, and as plural: “deberes” and its gender is always masculine.

No jugarás hasta que hagas tus deberes / You won’t play until you do your homeworks

duties and obligationsAlso used as a noun but almost always in singular, the word “deber” expresses the commitment fulfilled or to comply before itself or to third parties.

Ingresé al Ejercito a cumplir con mi deber / I entered the Army to fulfill my duty

Deber” as a verb relating to debts.

The current use of the verb “deber” and its conjugations is that which is associated with acquired debts of any kind:

Yo debo dinero al Banco / I owe money to the Bankduties and obligations

Ella me debe un favor / She owes me a favor

Deber” as auxiliary modal verb.

The verb “deber” and its conjugations in all verbal tenses, is used preceding the infinitive of other verbs to perform the same function as the modal auxiliary verb “should“. In this use is associated with the duties and obligations:

Yo debería estudiar / I should study

Ellos deberían asistir a la boda / They should attend the wedding

A nice example of the use of the verb in both functions would be:

Yo debería disculparme con usted pues le debo una disculpa /

I should apologize with you because I owe you an apology



The verb “Tener” as possession.

The most common use of the verb “tener” is the equivalent of “to have” and denotes possession of something:

duties and obligationsYo tengo un automóvil / I have a car

Ellos tienen una familia muy grande / They have a very big family

And unlike English, where the holding of some needs or sensations is generally expressed using the verb “to be“, in Spanish it is more common “tener” those feelings:

Yo tengo sed / I’m thirsty

Ellos tenían sueño / They were sleepy

Tener” as auxiliary modal verb.

The use of the verb “tener” and its conjugations, accompanied by the conjunction “que” preceding another verb in infinitive, it equates interchangeably with the modal expression “must” and the expression “have to” and its use is also associated with the fulfillment of duties and obligations.

It is used to express obligatory in executing the action expressed in the second verb:duties and obligations

Tener que Jugar / Have to play

Al ver una señal de STOP, tienes que detener totalmente el vehículo /

When you see a STOP signal you have to stop the vehicle completely

Yo tengo que trabajar esta noche / I must work tonight

It is important to point out once more that, because it is about duties and obligations, the criterion for the use of one or another expression: “deber” or “tener que“, it cannot be regulated, grammatically speaking, in a rigid way because it is associated with the interpretation of the level of commitment or obligatory of the people.

For example:

duties and obligationsMuchos estudiantes piensan que ellos deberían estudiar para los exámenes. Sus Padres les dicen que deben hacerlo y sus Profesores les demuestran que tienen que hacerlo.

Many students think they should study for the exams. Their parents tell them that they must to do it and their teachers show them that they have to do it.

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Written By Alberto Otano

One Comment on “Duties and Obligations. The subtle difference between Deber y Tener que.

  1. Mobidea

    August 31, 2017 at 8:25

    Me ha gustado este artículo, muchas gracias por compartirlo y sigue así.

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