HomeQ&AIs there a difference in meaning between "tener que" and "deber"?

Is there a difference in meaning between "tener que" and "deber"?

6
votes

I'm aware that both mean "to have to do something" but I'm unable to ferret out whether there is a more subtle distinction between the two.

21707 views
updated SEP 23, 2014
posted by dsrogers

14 Answers

3
votes

When I was studying in Spain we spent a whole class on this, and the upshot there was that "deber" was a greater obligation than "tener que", and indeed "deber" was the greatest form of obligation. Even though "tener que" literally means "have to" and in English that would be the greatest form of obligation, this teacher made it seem like "Tener que" more accurately translated to "should" or "ought to". But maybe there's a new world/old world difference there?

When I was in Spain I definitely heard people says things like "debes hacerlo" with the kind of emphasis on "debes" that made it seem like a much greater obligation than "should" would imply in English.

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by Morethan3words
I remember having a conversation along these lines with a friend from Ecuador who said the same thing that you just said. I remember that I was really confused by it because I thought that "tener que" would denote a greater obligation. - alba3, MAR 14, 2010
excelente!! - mountaingirl123, MAR 14, 2010
Sometimes I wonder if New World Spanish is secretly influenced by its American English translation, like, if you'll pardon the language, the Mexican use of the CH-word that seems to mirror English use of the F word, where that doesn't happen in Spain. - Morethan3words, MAR 14, 2010
2
votes

Tener que... means "have to"

Deber... means must.

I suppose they mean the same thing at the end of the day but that's the difference.

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by TheSilentHero
1
vote

My Mexican friend says that there is no difference. It means the same to them.

updated SEP 23, 2014
posted by amybookit
Hello Amy, welcome to the site! It appears that you have just joined? - JDB1920, SEP 23, 2014
1
vote

"tener que" = "to have to"

Tengo que hacer mi tarea.- I have to do my homework.


"deber"="to should" /"should"

Debo hacer mi tarea. = I should do my homework.

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by MeEncantanCarasSonrisas
There is no "to should" in English, it's a modal verb, so it doesn't have an infinitive (like can, ought, etc.) - Morethan3words, MAR 14, 2010
I just used the "to" to stress that it was an infinitive; next time I won't use it though :) - MeEncantanCarasSonrisas, MAR 14, 2010
1
vote

"Tengo que" is the informal way of saying "Deber." Comparing the two phrases to English can be confusing because in English, "Have to" is obligation and "Should" is advisory; they have different meanings, whereas in Spanish, "Deber" can mean either, "Should" or "Have to."

"Deber" can also mean probability: "Por como está vestido, él ha de ser soldado." "From how he is dressed, he must be (probably is) a soldier."

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by 005faa61
But you did use "deber" in your example, Julian. No usó "deber" en su ejemplo. - CalvoViejo, MAR 14, 2010
You're right. The other way is "Por como está vestido, él debe de ser soldado." - 005faa61, MAR 14, 2010
"Ha de ser" and "Debe de ser" are the same. - 005faa61, MAR 14, 2010
1
vote

I agree with MeEncanta.

I understand "tengo que" to mean I have to do something (a greater obligation) and "debo" to mean I should do something (a lesser obligation).

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by --Mariana--
That's what I always heard. - Goyo, MAR 14, 2010
0
votes

My Mexican friend says that there is no difference. It means the same to them.

updated SEP 23, 2014
posted by amybookit
0
votes

There's no difference.

"debo hacerlo" = "i must do it"

"tengo que hacerlo" = "i have to do it"

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by ismarodri_uy
Always when I here that "there is no difference" between two words I ask myself "Why do they both exist?" - ian-hill, MAR 14, 2010
Sometimes I think the same thing :) - MeEncantanCarasSonrisas, MAR 14, 2010
0
votes

Hola todas

I agree!

Muchas gracias

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by cwhitt24
0
votes

Ismarodri,

Is there a difference between "no tienes que hacerlo" and "no debes hacerlo"?

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by webdunce
Must = a form of self obligation in Eglish - But "must not" is not the opposite it = a prohibition. - ian-hill, MAR 14, 2010
0
votes

Tener que = to have to

Deber is used, among other things, for MUST.

BUT I have to in English is more related to an obligation that one has to someone else.

Example: I have to go home early because my father told me to.

And MUST is more related to an obligation you have to yourself.

Example: I must leave now or I will miss my bus.

I am not so sure it is the same in Spanish.

Maybe those who know more can let us know.

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by ian-hill
0
votes

I believe tener que is 'have to' and deber is 'should'

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by xoxsarasxox
0
votes

What about the negative "no tengo que"???

I may be getting this wrong...

...but I seem to recall one gentleman here at SpanishDict.com, who apparently is married to a Spanish-speaking wife, saying it took him a long time to realize that when she said "no tienes que..." she meant "you must not..." while he always took it to mean "you don't have to..." Apparently this was the cause of a lot of arguments.

updated MAR 14, 2010
edited by webdunce
posted by webdunce
0
votes

Yes, the distinction is so subtle that it may have no importance. It might help to remember that "los deberes" are "obligations" or "tasks".

I suppose that an observation could be made that "deber" can also include the sense of obligation.

But, as Silent Hero mentioned, at the end of the day it's pretty much the same.

updated MAR 14, 2010
posted by mountaingirl123
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