The verb devoir usually means must / to have to (see Conjugate devoir in the present tense in French (Le Présent)).
However, in past context, its meaning changes depending on whether you use Le Passé Composé or L'Imparfait.
Learn when to use DEVOIR in L'Imparfait or in Le Passé Composé in French
Using DEVOIR in L'Imparfait = was supposed to [do]
Ils devaient venir ce soir, mais ils ont annulé à la dernière minute.They were supposed to come tonight, but they cancelled at the last minute.
Nous devions nous rejoindre à 17h. Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé ?We were supposed to meet at 5pm. What happened ?
Maintenant que ses parents n'étaient plus là, elle devait s'occuper de sa sœur.Now that her parents were gone, she had to take care of her sister.
-> Here we don't know if she fulfilled that obligation.
When conjugated in L'Imparfait
refers to a past obligation, without specifying whether it was met or not
Actually, in most cases, the obligation was not met
To conjugate devoir in L'Imparfait, see Conjugate regular verbs in the imperfect tense in French (L'Imparfait)
Using DEVOIR in Le Passé Composé = had to [do] / must have [done]
Il est parti tôt, donc j'ai dû faire la lessive moi-même.He left early, so I had to do the laundry myself.
Nous étions en retard, donc nous avons dû appeler un taxi.We were late, so we had to call a taxi.
Il a dû le laisser là pour toi.He must have left it there for you.
J'ai trouvé l'écharpe de Sophie. Elle a dû l'oublier.I found Sophie's scarf. She must have forgotten it.
When conjugated in Le Passé Composé
can either refer to:
- a past obligation that was met
- the likeliness
of an action having taken place, a hypothesis
on a past situation.
To conjugate devoir in Le Passé Composé, see Conjugate voir/devoir/pouvoir/boire/croire/savoir/lire/plaire/taire (+ avoir) in the compound past in French (Le Passé Composé)
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