Expressing Obligation with Tener que, Deber, Necesitar

Spanish has three more verb + infinitive combinations that you'll find very helpful: tener que (to have to), deber (should), and necesitar (to need). The most common, and probably least formal of the three is tener que + infinitive. This is the form you would most likely use with colleagues you are chummy with, people to whom you can say what they have to do without offence. The other two verbs, deber and necesitar, are a bit more instructional, and you might use them more with a new colleague or someone with whom you have a less informal relationship.



Listen to each example on Track 46 as you follow along in the text. Repeat each statement after you hear it.

Jaime, primero tienes que completar ese reporte.

(Jaime, first you have to complete that report.)

Señora Olmedo, antes de archivar estos documentos, debe revisarlos.

(Mrs. Olmedo, before filing these documents, you should review them.)

Los nuevos socios necesitan reunirse con Personal la primera semana de empleo.

(New associates need to meet with Personnel their first week of employment.)

Notice that tener que is quite direct, while deber and necesitar can be used to make suggestions and give instructions without being quite so direct. As always, the tone in which these expressions are used determines the formality or informality of the statements.

Impersonal Expressions with Se

You've already learned lots of impersonal expressions as well as the structure hay que and know how to use them with infinitives to tell people what to do politely. Tener que, deber, and necesitar can also be used to politely indicate what people have to do. There is another structure that is the most indirect of all, which can be especially diplomatic when you have to tell someone what to do or make requests. The formula is: se + third person singular of the simple present + infinitive. For example, Se tiene que man-dar ese reporte cada día (That report has to be sent every day). Though the implication is that someone in particular has to send the report, the expression itself is impersonal and thus more polite.

Impersonal Expressions with Se


Listen to each example on Track 47 as you follow along in the text. Repeat each statement after you hear it.

No se debe archivar un expediente sin la firma del gerente.

(No file should be filed without the manager's signature.)

A veces se necesita usar el escáner en vez de la copiadora.

(Sometimes the scanner needs to be used instead of the copier.)

Se tiene que reparar el proyector.

(The projector has to be fixed.)

Remember that, as a general rule, the more indirect a request is in Spanish, the more polite it is. Tone is also a key element in keeping a request polite, but your primary tools are the many formulas for indirect expression available to you in Spanish.

Office Vocabulary

Now that you have learned many different ways to express requests and tell people what to do, let's expand your office vocabulary and then talk more about specific tasks and who has to do them.

Office Furnishings and Equipment

  • el escritorio (desk)

  • el archivo, el archivero (file cabinet)

  • el mueble (cabinet, credenza)

  • la computadora (computer)

  • la pantalla (screen, monitor)

  • el teclado (keyboard)

  • el escáner (scanner)

  • el fax (fax machine)

  • la [foto]copiadora (photocopier)

  • el cuaderno (notebook)

  • el expediente (file, dossier)

  • la carpeta, el folder (folder)

  • el proyector (projector)

  • el tablero (message board or whiteboard)

  • el marcador, el lapicero (marker)

  • Office Activities

  • mandar (send)

  • [foto]copiar (photocopy)

  • archivar (file)

  • imprimir (print)

  • atender, e > ie (attend to)

  • dirigir (direct)

  • coordinar (coordinate)

  • colaborar (collaborate)

  • pedir, e > i (request)

  • investigar (research)

  • confirmar (confirm)

  • documentar (document)

  • Add to these lists as you look at the furnishings and equipment in your own office and undertake your specific work activities.

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    4. Expressing Obligation with Tener que, Deber, Necesitar
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