Conjugate deber in El Pretérito Imperfecto

Deber (must/have to) is regular in El Pretérito Imperfecto.
Have a look at its conjugation:

yo debía
debías
él / ella / Ud. debía
nosotros / nosotras 
debíamos
vosotros / vosotras
debíais
ellos / ellas / Uds.   debían

Read and listen to these examples:

Yo debía ir a la escuela todos los días.I had to go to school every day.

debías acompañar a tu abuela a la calle.You had to accompany your grandmother outside.

Él debía leer muchos libros.He had to read many books.

Nosotros debíamos jugar al fútbol sin rodilleras.We had to play football without kneepads.

Vosotras debíais escribir con la mano izquierda.You had to write with your left hand.

Ustedes debían llevar una botella de agua.You had to bring a bottle of water.

 

Look how in the examples deber is always followed by an infinitive. We use deber in El Pretérito Imperfecto combined with another verb to express what "you had to do in the past" or what "you used to have to do in the past"


See also Conjugate regular -er and -ir verbs in El Pretérito Imperfecto (imperfect)

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Él debía leer muchos libros.He had to read many books.
debías acompañar a tu abuela a la calle.You had to accompany your grandmother outside.
Yo debía ir a la escuela todos los días.I had to go to school every day.
Ustedes debían llevar una botella de agua.You had to bring a bottle of water.
Vosotras debíais escribir con la mano izquierda.You had to write with your left hand.
Nosotros debíamos jugar al fútbol sin rodilleras.We had to play football without kneepads.

Q&A Forum 1 question, 3 answers

EmanuelB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Are deber and tener que interchangeable or are there differences in meaning and use betwen them.

Asked 8 months ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Emanuel

Deber and tener que are generally interchangeable. However, tener que is normally used to express what someone has to do and whatever that is, is not totally dependable on the person but on "external factors"; Deber is also used to express what someone has to do but this obligation is more of a moral obligation and it depends on the person, not external factors. Here are two examples with a bit of context:

"La estación de trenes está bastante lejos. Si quieres llegar a tiempo, tendrás que coger un taxi." (The train station is quite far. If you want to get there on time you will have to take a taxi.)

Here I used "tendrás que" because there are external factors (the train station being far a way).

"Antonio, debes ser más generoso con tu hermano." (Antonio, you have to be more generous with your brother.)

Here I used "debes" because it is more of a moral obligation and it is totally dependable on Antonio. 

We tend to use "tener que" a lot more than deber though. 

I hope this helps

Inma

EmanuelB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

This is really a great explanation. Thank you.

IanC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
"Deber + infinitive" vs. "tener que + infinitive"

 

"Deber + infinitive" tends to imply a sense of *internal* obligation, whereas "tener que + infinitive," which is extremely common and very close in meaning, tends to convey a sense of *external* obligation.

 

Emilio debe levantar su ropa sucia.
Emilio should pick up his dirty clothes. (For his own good and that of the household.)

 

Emilio tiene que levantar su ropa sucia.
Emilio must/has to pick up his dirty clothes. (Or his mother will ground him.)

I researched this because the question was:  She had to serve coffe to the customers.  That is hardly an internal or moral obligation but a conditioin of her employment imposed on her by externel factors; i.e her boss.  Not a good example for using deber.  Tener que would be more appropriate.

Are deber and tener que interchangeable or are there differences in meaning and use betwen them.

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