Expressing obligation in Spanish

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Expressing obligation

There are three main ways to indicate what has to be done, or express obligation:

  • Tener que tener, presente + infinitive: obligation or strong necessity.

El ascensor no funciona, tengo que subir por las escaleras.

The elevator doesn't work, I have to go up the stairs.

Tiene que hacer la compra.

He has to go shopping.

  • Deber deber, presente + infinitive: less strong obligation.

Debo terminar el informe antes de las siete de la tarde.

I must finish the report by 7:00 p.m.

Si estás enfermo, deberías ir al médico.

If you're sick, you should go to the doctor.

  • Hay que (have to) + infinitive: obligation.

Cuando el semáforo está en rojo, hay que parar.

When the traffic light is red, we have to stop.

Hay que comer fruta y verdura cada día.

We have to eat fruit and vegetables every day.

Note: on signs, we often express obligation using es obligatorio (it is compulsory to) + infinitive verb.

Es obligatorio ducharse antes de entrar en la piscina.

It is compulsory to shower before entering the pool.

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