Un trocito de Real Spanish: «El deber me llama» and other uses of «deber»

Have you heard the expression «El deber me llama»?   In the video above, José explains this expression and other uses of the verb «deber». The  English transcription is below. If you just want to listen to the audio, you can find it on Soundcloud.




Hello and welcome to Real Spanish!

Today I’m going to explain some uses of the verb «deber», which is normally used to express a debt— usually money, but also more abstract concepts. Look at these examples:

Te debo la vida. I owe you my life.

Te debo 50 euros. I owe you 50 euros

When «deber» is followed by an infinitive, it expresses obligation and is very similar in meaning to «tener que» + infinitive, but is a bit softer. Also, «deber + infinitive» is more often used in formal contexts.

Debo hablar con mi abogado. I should/I ought to speak to my lawyer.

Tengo que limpiar la casa. I have to clean the house.

When «deber» is followed by the preposition «de», it expresses a hypothesis, conjecture, or probability. For example:

El director del banco debe de ser un hombre muy serio, ¿no? The director of the bank must be a really serious guy, right?

Debes de estar muy cansado después de un viaje tan largo. You must be very tired after such a long journey.

With other verb tenses (in past or conditional forms), «deber» expresses an obligation or a necessity that has not been fulfilled. For example:

Debiste aceptar la oferta de trabajo. You should have accepted the job offer.

Deberías haber estudiado más.

You should have studied more.

It can also be interpreted as an unfulfilled wish. For example:

El hombre que me atropelló debería haber ido a la cárcel.

The man who ran over me should have gone to jail.

Another use of this verb is «se debe a» + noun or «debido a» + noun to express cause, similar in meaning to “because of” + noun.

Su dolor de espalda se debe a la falta de ejercicio físico. His back pain is due to a lack of exercise.

Debido a las fuertes lluvias han cancelado el concierto. The concert has been cancelled due to heavy rain.

In addition, «deber» is a noun that means “obligation” or “duty”.

El deber del ciudadano es comportarse de forma civilizada. It is a citizen’s duty to behave in a civilised manner.

A common expression is «el deber me llama», when we have to do something even though we may not want to.  It’s often used to excuse ourselves before leaving. For example:

Me encantaría quedarme un rato más contigo, pero el deber me llama. I’d love to spend more time with you, but duty calls.

OK, now you ought to see (deberías ver) the video again in order to understand and learn everything. I hope you liked it! Bye now!

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