What does "¿qué tengo que hacer'" mean? | SpanishDict Answers
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Hola todos,

When I was trying to get the meaning of "¿qué tengo que hacer'", I thought that it means "what do I have to do'". However I got another translation after I googled it online. The website told me that it means "what should I do'". There are some differences between these two phrases even though they have similar meanings in English. I am wondering which one is the meaning of "¿qué tengo que hacer'" usually.
¿Por favor puede alguien ayudárme y decírmelo?

Muchas gracias de antemano,

Marco

  • Posted Aug 20, 2008
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12 Answers

0 Vote

Yo digo que es la primera

What do I have to do?

What should I do? translates more like ¿Qué debo hacer'

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Nate said:

Yo digo que es la primeraWhat do I have to do'What should I do? translates more like ¿Qué debo hacer?

Hi Nate, thanks for your reply.
I think that "¿qué tengo que hacer" means "what do I have to do'".
There should be another phrase that refers to "what should I do'". When you gave me the example, you wrote "¿qué debo hacer'". Is "deber" used to refer "should"? I think that "deber" means "to own" usually since I read the post from others.
Will wait for other responses.

Marco

0 Vote

Deber tiene muchos significados y no hay una sola palabra en ingles que puede captar todos.

Deber as a noun means debt or duty. When used as transitive verb it means "to owe" like being in debt.
When used as an intransitive verb it expresses a need or duty to do something.
An example form the dictionary for deber as an intransitive verb:

debes dominar tus implusos - you should control your impluses (in a way saying "it is your duty to control your impluses" hence the verb deber)

That is how I understand it but I am no professional and welcome any help from the others.

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Nope. "deber" = should/ought/owe. So "What should I do'" or (somewhat more old fashioned) "What ought I do'" The other sense of "deber" is owe as in a debt. But, as in English, the debt sense derives from the broader notion of "to have a (moral) obligation to ..." "Tener que" has the underlying sense of necessary. However, in both English and Spanish , many people use both phrases pretty much interchangeably in many circumstances.

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Marco said:

Nate said:

Yo digo que es la primeraWhat do I have to do'What should I do? translates more like ¿Qué debo hacer?

Hi Nate, thanks for your reply.I think that "¿qué tengo que hacer" means "what do I have to do'".There should be another phrase that refers to "what should I do'". When you gave me the example, you wrote "¿qué debo hacer'". Is "deber" used to refer "should"? I think that "deber" means "to own" usually since I read the post from others.Will wait for other responses.Marco

Yes, deber is often used in the context of "should" or "ought."

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I really appreciate all replies from Nate, Sandie and Natasha.
The explanations that you guys gave to me make sense for me, especially the explanation from Nate regarding transitive and intransitive verbs.

Muchas gracias por vuestro ayudas.

Marco

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"Tener que + inf." and "Deber + inf.." are a special kind of phrases that Spanish grammars call "perífrasis" (periphrases, in English). The first one is actually identical in structure (and similar in meaning) to the English phrase "(to) have to + inf."

The periphrasis "tener que + inf" is used when it is necessary for someone to do something, independently of what the speaker thinks.
The periphrasis "deber + inf" is similar in meaning, but this time it depends on the speaker's personal criterion (including the moral one).

0 Vote

Ok, es casi lo mismo, la diferencia es muy sutil, por ejemplo, cuando u dices ¿qué tengo que hacer? básicamente estás pidiendo que te direccionen hacia alguna acción, o sea, si le preguntas a tu novio: ¿qué tengo que hacer para que me prestes un poco de atención? entonces le estás pidiendo una respuesta concreta. En cambio, "What should I do'", quiere decir "¿Qué debería hacer'", y esto es más que nada pedir un consejo a alguien ej. ¿Qué debería de hacer para que mi novio me preste atención'.

Como puedes ver se trata más bien de pedir información concreta o un consejo. Pero si usas cualquiera de las dos darás a entender casi la misma idea.

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Daniel said:

Ok, es casi lo mismo, la diferencia es muy sutil, por ejemplo, cuando u dices ¿qué tengo que hacer? básicamente estás pidiendo que te direccionen hacia alguna acción, o sea, si le preguntas a tu novio: ¿qué tengo que hacer para que me prestes un poco de atención? entonces le estás pidiendo una respuesta concreta. En cambio, "What should I do'", quiere decir "¿Qué debería hacer'", y esto es más que nada pedir un consejo a alguien ej. ¿Qué debería de hacer para que mi novio me preste atención'. Como puedes ver se trata más bien de pedir información concreta o un consejo. Pero si usas cualquiera de las dos darás a entender casi la misma idea.

Estás mezclando tiempos verbales con perífrasis, y más cosas: en tu ejemplo es un consejo, no por usar "deber", sino porque está en condicional. Di "debes tener cuidado", y no hay consejo que valga. Mira un buen manual de gramática o un diccionario para extranjeros y verás que tu diferencia entre información o consejo no tiene nada que ver con estas dos estructuras. Creo que has inducido incorrectamente una regla a partir de unos cuantos ejemplos que tú mismo te has puesto.

No sé tú, pero yo he consultado más de 10 libros, cientos de ejemplos, y la opinión de otros profesores con mucha experiencia, antes de dar la respuesta que puse más arriba.

Perdona si sueno algo brusco; no es mi intención.

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lazarus1907 said:

"Tener que + inf." and "Deber + inf.." are a special kind of phrases that Spanish grammars call "perífrasis" (periphrases, in English). The first one is actually identical in structure (and similar in meaning) to the English phrase "(to) have to + inf."The periphrasis "tener que + inf" is used when it is necessary for someone to do something, independently of what the speaker thinks.The periphrasis "deber + inf" is similar in meaning, but this time it depends on the speaker's personal criterion (including the moral one).

Thank you, lazarus for your reply.
You always give us a lot of helpful and useful academic information. That makes me feel like I am taking Spanish class.
Also want to say "thank you" to Daniel, but it's more difficult for me to totally understand the explanations or rules en español because I am still a beginner of learning Spanish.

Marco

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Marco said:

lazarus1907 said:

"Tener que + inf." and "Deber + inf.." are a special kind of phrases that Spanish grammars call "perífrasis" (periphrases, in English). The first one is actually identical in structure (and similar in meaning) to the English phrase "(to) have to + inf."The periphrasis "tener que + inf" is used when it is necessary for someone to do something, independently of what the speaker thinks.The periphrasis "deber + inf" is similar in meaning, but this time it depends on the speaker's personal criterion (including the moral one).

Thank you, lazarus for your reply.You always give us a lot of helpful and useful academic information. That makes me feel like I am taking Spanish class.Also want to say "thank you" to Daniel, but it's more difficult for me to totally understand the explanations or rules en español because I am still a beginner of learning Spanish.Marco

Daniel said that "deber" is used when asking for advice, and "tener que" is used when asking for information. Lazarus disputes this distinction . . .

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Natasha said:

Daniel said that "deber" is used when asking for advice, and "tener que" is used when asking for information. Lazarus disputes this distinction . . .

Well... I've got a Spanish grammar written for non-natives which is considered an essential reference book for any teacher of Spanish as a foreign language, and it dedicates no less than 12 pages to explain this distinction. It is a classic!

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