Spanish Lessons


Deber / Deber De + Infinitive

When it’s over, it’s over. It’s like in Aleks Syntek’s song "Intocable" (“Untouchable”), where the poor guy was dumped and ends up consoling himself by singing:


Si en el juego del amor ahora soy el perdedor debo salir adelante

If in the game of love now I'm the loser I must move on

Captions 4-6, Aleks Syntek - Intocable

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In Spanish, when we want to express an obligation or a responsibility, we use the verb deber, properly conjugated of course, followed by the infinitive of the verb denoting the action that we must carry out.


Debo hacer mi tarea.
I must do my homework.

Debiste haberme avisado.
You should have warned me OR you should have told me in advance.

"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.)

So any time you want to express a sense of responsibility or obligation, especially one that stems of an internal sense of duty, just conjugate the verb deber and then add the infinitive of the action verb.

Sé que no será fácil pero debo confesarle la verdad.

I know it won't be easy but I must confess the truth.


"Deber de + infinitive"


But hold on there for a minute! A little later in the song, Syntek changes the syntax around considerably by singing:


Debes confundida estar

You must be confused

Caption 13, Aleks Syntek - Intocable

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Actually two things are happening simultaneously, so you should be patient and bear with us! (¡Debes ser paciente y aguantarnos!)

First of all, the syntax. Normally, one would say, sing or write:


Debes estar confundida. 
You must be confused.

He turned the sentence on its head so this line Debes confundida estar would rhyme with the next one:


Terminar por terminar
To break up for the sake of breaking up


The second thing here is a finer point of Spanish grammar. When one wants to give the listener or reader the idea of probability, one also uses the verb deber, but before the infinitive, one should also include the preposition de. Technically, this is what Aleks Syntek should have sung:

Confundida debes de estar.
You must be [probably are] confused.

Denisse Guerrero makes the opposite error (adding "de" where she should have left it out) when she sings "Lo siento, niño, debo de partir" (I'm sorry, boy, I must leave) in line 27 of the Belanova video "Niño":


Lo siento, niño, debo de partir

I'm sorry, boy, I must leave

Caption 27, Belanova - Niño

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Strictly speaking, she should have simply sung "debo partir" (I must leave). But we are not out to pick on pop stars*!


A confusing matter

Many native speakers, both in Spain and Latin America, are not consciously aware of this difference and tend to sweep it under the rug, which is unfortunate because there is a huge difference between responsibility or obligation, and probability.

Check out these two sentences, which mean two different things:

Aleks Syntek debió de entender la diferencia.
Aleks Syntek probably understood the difference. (That is the most likely scenario.)


Aleks Syntek debió entender la diferencia.
Aleks Syntek should have understood the difference. (Because it was his obligation or responsibility.)

See what we mean? Let’s chalk it up to the poor girl’s unfortunate decision to leave him, when debió quedarse con él (“she should have stayed with him”). But there’s no accounting for taste.

*At least one pop diva wasn't daydreaming during her grammar lessons. Natalia Oreiro, as eloquent as she is lovely, correctly uses "deber de + infinitive" when she says:


Más que sentirme mal yo, imagínate cómo se deben de sentir ellos.

More than feeling badly myself, imagine how they must feel.

Captions 40-41, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

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That's it for today. We hope you find this lesson useful and we invite you to send us your comments and suggestions.


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Dicho: Better Said and Done

Just a few moments later in the Oreiro interview, Natalia Oreiro's father corrects himself with the phrase mejor dicho, which can be translated as "better said" or "rather." Note that dicho ("said") is the past participle of the irregular verb decir ("to say").


Es lo que te dije anteriormente, es ver a la gente, cómo...

It's what I told you previously, it's seeing the people, how...

Mejor dicho, ver a Natalia... cómo le llega a las personas ¿no?

Rather, seeing Natalia... how she reaches people, right?

Captions 80-83, Biografía Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

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We also hear dicho in our interview with the co-founder of Tu Rock es Votar Armando David. Armando says dicho y hecho ("said and done").


Y dicho y hecho, eso generó toda una controversia durante muchos meses en donde...

And said and done, that generated a whole controversy during many months in which...

Captions 67-68, Tu Rock es Votar - Armando

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Looking around at other dicho sayings, we found the catchy:

Del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho.
From the saying to the deed, there's a big distance.
(or "Easier said than done.")

By the way, another definition for dicho actually is "saying," as we noted previously in this space.


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Emocionar: It's So Moving!

Moving right along, with Natalia's proud papa, we come across this line:


Lo que más me emociona... es lo que te dije anteriormente.

What moves me the most... it's what I told you previously.

Captions 79-80, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

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You see, emocionarse is a reflexive verb meaning "to be moved [by]." Like the verbs gustar or encantar (which we wrote about in this space before), emocionar agrees with the object of the sentence -- i.e., whatever it is that is moving -- instead of the speaker.

To see emocionarse at work, we are featuring a touching interview with the Mexican musical group
Belanova this week. Here are the examples we gleaned from their interview: porque les emociona nuestro proyecto.'s because they are moved by our project. (Or:'s because our project moves them.)

Caption 28, Belanova - Entrevista - Part 3

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Que nos emociona mucho hacerlo, que es lo más importante...

That really moves us when doing it, which is the most important...

Caption 39, Belanova - Entrevista - Part 3

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...que a toda la gente que ve a Belanova se emociona.

...which moves all the people who see Belanova.

Caption 41, Belanova - Entrevista - Part 3

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In the examples above, note that emociona (the third personal singular, present form of emocionar) agrees with the project, action or sight that is considered moving. Meanwhile, the object pronouns les (for "them"), nos (for "us") and se (for "everyone" -- i.e., toda la gente) let us know who is being moved by the subject in each of the examples above.



A Ana y María les emocionan las películas de amor antiguas.
Ana and Maria are moved by old love films.

Estas historias nos emocionan mucho.
These stories really move us.


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De Repente: Suddenly or Maybe

Our four new video clips deliver more than fifteen minutes of spoken Spanish -- subtitled and translated -- to your computer. To learn all you can from the rapid-fire banter, check out Yabla's "slow play" feature. (To activate, simply click SLOW on the Yabla Player). By taking the pace down a notch, you might notice some nuances that could otherwise elude you.


One subtlety we noted in the eighth installment of our chat with actress Natalia Oreiro was that she and her father use the phrase "de repente" in different ways. First, let's listen to Natalia describe seeing herself on TV in her first starring role:


Y mirando Canal Nueve... el estreno y de repente aparezco yo... tah, tah...

And watching Channel Nine... the premiere and suddenly I appear... tah, tah...

Captions 64-65, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

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The word "repente" on its own means "fit" or "burst." But in everyday spoken Spanish, it's often heard in the idiom "de repente" which primarily means "all of a sudden" or "suddenly." That's how Natalia uses it here, when she was surprised to see her own image on the TV screen.

But just a few lines later, we hear from Natalia's dad. He's obviously not a professional actor and he
, well, hesitates on camera more than his daughter, explaining:


...pierdo la continuidad de... de... de... de repente de escucharla.

...I lose the habit of... of... of... maybe of listening to her.

Caption 77, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 8

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In the Oreiro family's native Uruguay (as well as in Venezuela), de repente can also mean "maybe," according to the Diccionario de la lengua española from the Real Academia Española. Another translation of de repente (although it doesn't fit here) is "spontaneously," i.e., without premeditation. Who would have guessed?

Cuando lo vi con esa mujer me dio un repente de furia.
When I saw him with that woman, I went into a fit of rage.


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