Deber in Spanish: Conjugations, Meanings & Uses


In this short guide, we will cover the following topics for ‘Deber’ in Spanish:

  1. What does ‘Deber’ mean?
  2. ‘Deber’ Conjugations
  3. How to Use ‘Deber’ in Spanish
  4. Expressions & Idioms with ‘Deber’
  5. Synonyms of ‘Deber’ in Spanish

What does ‘Deber’ mean?

Definition – In Spanish, ‘deber’ has multiple meanings. Some of the most common translations are ‘must’, ‘to have to’, ‘to owe’ and ‘to be due to’. As a result, this verb can be used to talk about duties, debts, causes and assumptions.

  1. When talking about obligations and duties, ‘deber’ can be translated as ‘to have to’, should’ or ‘must’.
  2. If describing some type of debt, ‘deber’ means ‘to owe’.
  3. To indicate the cause of a situation, it can be translated as ‘to be due to’.
  4. When talking about something likely to happen but that you have no certainty of, ‘deber’ is also translated as ‘must’.

‘Deber’ Conjugations 

‘Deber’ is a regular verb, which means that the stem deb will be the same for all subjects and tenses and the only thing that will change is the ending. Remember that to conjugate to the future and conditional, instead of working with the stem, you’ll add the proper endings to the verb in infinitive form. 

Indicative

Present tense conjugation

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoDeboI owe
DebesYou owe
Él / Ella / UstedDebeHe/She owes
NosotrosDebemosWe owe
VosotrosDebéisYou owe
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDebenThey/You owe

Preterite tense conjugation

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoDebíI owed
DebisteYou owed
Él / Ella / UstedDebHe/She owed
NosotrosDebimosWe owed
VosotrosDebisteisYou owed
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDebieronThey/You owed

Imperfect tense conjugation

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoDebíaI owed
DebíasYou owed
Él / Ella / UstedDebíaHe/She owed
NosotrosDebíamosWe owed
VosotrosDebíaisYou owed
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDebíanThey/You owed

Future tense conjugation

To conjugate ‘deber’ to the future tense, you just need to add the corresponding endings to the infinitive verb.

PersonConjugation Translation
YoDeberéI will owe
DeberásYou will owe
Él / Ella / UstedDeberáHe/She will owe
NosotrosDeberemosWe will owe
VosotrosDeberéisYou will owe
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDeberánThey/You will owe

Conditional tense conjugation

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoDeberíaI would owe
DeberíasYou would owe
Él / Ella / UstedDeberíaHe/She would owe
NosotrosDeberíamosWe would owe
VosotrosDeberíaisYou would owe
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDeberíanThey/You would owe

Take note: When conjugated in the conditional tense, the main way to use ‘deber’ is as a translation of ‘should’. So with this meaning, ‘deber’ is used to give advice or recommendations. 

No deberías comer tanto azúcar. 
You shouldn’t eat that much sugar. 

Chicas, deberían ser más amables con su hermana. 
Girls, you should be nicer with your sister. 

Progressive Tenses

graphic showing how to conjugate deber in progressive tenses in spanish

Si no pagas la renta, estarás debiendo mucho dinero el próximo mes.
If you don’t pay the rent, you’ll be owing a lot of money next month.

Durante mucho tiempo, mi tío estuvo debiendo dinero al banco.
For a long time, my uncle owed money to the bank.

Perfect Tenses

graphic showing how to conjugate deber in perfect tenses in spanish

Desde que la conozco, Tania le ha debido dinero a tu hermano.
Ever since I’ve known her, Tania has owed your brother money.

Deber Subjunctive Conjugations

Present subjunctive conjugation

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoDebaTo owe
DebasTo owe
Él / Ella / UstedDebaTo owe
NosotrosDebamosTo owe
VosotrosDebáisTo owe
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDebanTo owe

Imperfect subjunctive conjugations

PersonConjugationTranslation
YoDebiera / DebieseI owed
Debieras / DebiesesYou owed
Él / Ella / UstedDebiera / DebieseHe/She owed
NosotrosDebiéramos / DebiésemosWe owed
VosotrosDebierais / DebieseisYou owed
Ustedes / Ellos / EllasDebieran / DebiesenThey/You owed

Perfect subjunctive

graphic conjugating deber in spanish in perfect subjunctive

Todo habría sido más fácil si no le hubieras debido dinero a tu suegro.
Everything would have been easier if you hadn’t owed your father-in-law money.

Imperative

Imperative conjugation

PersonConjugationTranslation
DebeOwe
NosotrosDebámosLet’s owe
VosotrosDebedOwe
UstedesDebanOwe

Below are some examples of how to use ‘deber’ in Spanish. Notice that this can be used as a way to remind people about their obligations or as a way to give them advice. 

[‘Deber’ imperative] + [complement]

¡Oigan, deben estudiar más!
Hey, guys, you should study more!

No + [‘deber’ in present subjunctive] + [noun]

No le debas dinero a gente que no conozcas.
Do not owe money to people you don’t know.

How to Use ‘Deber’ in Spanish with Examples

There are four main ways to use ‘deber’ in Spanish:

  1. To talk about obligations and duties
  2. Describing that someone owes something
  3. To indicate causality
  4. To express probability

The sections below will help you have a better understanding of how to use this verb in conversations.

Talking about obligations and duties

‘Deber’ is frequently used to describe that someone has a task, duty or obligation. In this case it can be translated as to have to or ‘must’. Notice that when conjugated in the conditional tense, ‘deber’ is used to indicate a suggestion and is commonly translated as ‘should’.

[Deber conjugated] + [verb in infinitive form] + [complement]

Debes enviar tu tarea antes de las doce.
You must send in your homework before twelve.

No puedo ir a la fiesta, debo cuidar a mi hermana.
I can’t go to the party, I have to babysit my sister.

Deberías prestar atención en clase.
You should pay attention in class.

Describing that someone owes something

If referring to some type of debt, ‘deber’ is translated as ‘to owe’. In this context, it is very common to use ‘deber’ as a pronominal verb to refer to the person or institution to whom we owe something to. 

[Indirect pronoun] + [‘deber’ conjugated] + [complement]

Perdiste la apuesta, nos debes una cerveza.
You lost the bet, you owe us a beer.

Te debo un gran favor.
I owe you a big favor.

Recuerda que le debemos 15 dólares a Alex.
Remember that we owe Alex 15 dollars.

Talking about the causes of something

When talking about the cause of an event or situation, ‘deber’ means ‘to be due to’, ‘to stem from’ or ‘to arise from’. In this case you’ll also need to use the impersonal pronoun ‘se’.

[Se] + [‘deber’ conjugated] + [preposition ‘a’] + [complement]

Las altas temperaturas se deben al calentamiento global.
High temperatures are due to global warming.

Los aumentos en hospitalizaciones se debieron a la pandemia.
The increases in hospitalizations were due to the pandemic.

Su buen desempeño se debe a su esfuerzo.
Your good performance stems from your effort.

Expressing probability

In Spanish, ‘deber’ can also be used to make assumptions. As a result, when talking about the probability or likelihood of a circumstance ‘deber’ is translated as ‘must’.

[‘Deber’ conjugated] + de + [verb in infinitive form]

Kevin se parece mucho a Eric, deben de ser hermanos.
Kevin looks a lot like Eric, they must be brothers.

No has comido nada, debes de estar hambriento.
You haven’t eaten anything, you must be hungry.

Ese niño está temblando, debe tener frío.
That kid is shivering, he must be cold.

Notice that the preposition ‘de’ can be omitted (just like example #3) and the sentences won’t change their meaning.

Deber Expressions & Idioms

There are some expressions that contain this verb and can help your conversational skills:

Deber una disculpa: It translates to ‘to owe an apology’.

El deber llama: This expression refers to an important duty that is waiting to be done. It can be translated as ‘duty calls’.

No deberse a nadie: It means that a person doesn’t owe anything to anyone. A rough translation could be ‘to answer to no-one’.

Synonyms of ‘Deber’ in Spanish

Tener que: It means ‘to have to’ and is used a little bit more frequently than ‘deber’.

Adeudar: This word refers to someone having a debt. It is translated as ‘to owe’. However, keep in mind that this word is not so commonly used.

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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