Trouble with Deber Conjugation? Learn it with CHUNKS, never forget it again!

The verb “deber” can mean about three things, maybe four.

In this video, we’ll review deber conjugation in the present tense, its uses, and the most common chunks that native speakers use.

Trouble with DEBER? Learn it with CHUNKS, never forget it again!

Hello, I’m Maura, from Spring Spanish. Let’s get started!

1. “Deber” when it means to owe money or a favor

CARLA
Maura, ¿podrías ayudarme a hacer la maleta? Me muero del asco.
(Maura, could you help me pack the suitcase? I’m dying of disgust.)

MAURA
¡Claro que sí! A mí me encanta hacer maletas.
(Of course I can! I love packing suitcases.)

CARLA
¡Mil gracias! Te debo una.
(A thousand thanks! I owe you one.)

MAURA
Pues, me pagas si te encargas de la cena.
(Well, you pay me if you take care of dinner.)

CARLA
¡Hecho!
(Done!)

Let’s start with the basics. One of the things “deber” can do is talk about debts. These debts can be monetary or it could be a favor, as in the case of the dialogue.

For example:

  • Si me ayudas con esto, te prometo que te debo una. (If you help me with this, I promise I owe you one.): “te debo una” es el chunk por excelencia que significa “te debo un favor”.
  • Tú pagaste la cena, ¿cuánto te debo? (You paid for dinner, how much do I owe you?)
  • Yo te invito, así que no me debes nada. (I’m buying, so you don’t owe me anything.)

CHUNK ALERT!

Me muero del asco” (I’m dying of disgust) is a chunk that can be used literally or figuratively. Literally, it means what it says: I’m dying of disgust because something is disgusting, like a cockroach. But figuratively, you can use it to talk about things that are also a huge bother to you.

That’s how Carla used it in the dialogue when talking about packing.

I could tell you that me muero del asco, that is, of nuisance and boredom with things like:

OFF CAMERA
Maura, ¿a ti qué te parece la burocracia, hacer mercado o lavarte el cabello?
(Maura, what do you think about bureaucracy, shopping for groceries or washing your hair?.)

MAURA
Con todas esas cosas me muero del asco.
(With all those things I die of disgust.)

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2. “Deber” when it means obligation

MAURA
Uno de mis trucos para hacer maletas es siempre poner primero lo que debes llevar sí o sí.
(One of my tricks for packing is to always put first what you must take with you.)

CARLA
O sea, pijamas, lo básico de la ropa, los regalos y esas cosas, ¿no?
(I mean, pajamas, the basics of clothing, gifts and that sort of thing, right?)

MAURA
Exacto, todo lo que es obligatorio. Lo siguiente es acumular las cosas que deberías llevar si tienes suficiente espacio.
(Exactly, everything that is mandatory. The next thing is to accumulate the things you should take if you have enough space.)

CARLA
Como un traje de baño y zapatos de nieve por si acaso, porque nunca sabes cuáles serán los planes.
(Like a bathing suit and snow shoes just in case, because you never know what the plans will be.)

MAURA
Tal cual. Solo así puedes ver si aún te queda espacio o si ya con eso es suficiente.
(Exactly. This is the only way to see if you still have space left or if that’s enough.)

When “deber” is not about debts, it’s about obligations. Things that are responsibilities or rules.

deber conjugation explained by female teacher

Like this:

  • Los niños deben hacer la tarea del colegio. (The children must do their school homework.)
  • Según la guía debo llevar una navaja, lentes de sol y mucha agua. (According to the guide I must bring a knife, sunglasses, and plenty of water.)
  • Todos debemos apoyar a los más vulnerables. (We must all support the most vulnerable.)

Debería” is the verb “deber” conjugated in the conditional tense. It’s important to mention it because in the conditional, this verb changes. It’s no longer about an obligation, but rather something that’s a good idea. It’s used for suggestions, not rules.

Like:

  • Deberíamos revisar la temperatura antes de salir. (We should check the temperature before we leave.)
  • Yo no debería tomar café a esta hora. (I shouldn’t drink coffee at this time of day.)
  • Deberías llamar a tu mamá más seguido. (You should call your mom more often.)

3. “Deber” in the present tense

As always, here we have a small table so you can visualize the conjugation of this verb in the present tense. Let’s review it together.

PronombreVerbChunk
YoDeboDebo salir temprano mañana. (I must leave early tomorrow.)
DebesNo me debes nada. (You owe me nothing.)
Él, Ella, EsoDebeÉl debe saber lo qué pasó. (He must know what happened.)
Nosotros/asDebemosNo debemos preocuparnos tanto. (We must not worry so much.)
Ustedes, Ellos/asDebenDeben avisar siempre que salgan. (They must always give notice when they go out.)

4. Commun chunks with “deber”

There are some combinations, chunks, in which this verb tends to appear in native speech. Let’s talk about the first one:

Debe ser (It must be)

This chunk is used to say that something is very, very likely. Like:

  • Suena el timbre, debe ser Amazon porque estamos esperando un paquete. (The bell is ringing, it must be Amazon because we are waiting for a package.)
  • Te llaman, debe ser tu hermana que estaba preguntando por ti. (They’re calling you, it must be your sister who was asking for you.)
  • No sé qué más lleva la salsa, debe ser albahaca. (I don’t know what else is in the sauce, it must be basil.)

Now let’s see what happens when “deber” is not a verb.

Es un deber (It’s a duty)

The word “deber” is both a verb and a noun, that is, it’s also a thing. A duty is an obligation or a responsibility. For example:

  • Es nuestro deber cuidar de los niños y niñas del mundo. (It is a duty to care for the children of the world.)
  • Mi deber como profesora es guiarte en tu propio camino de aprendizaje. (My duty as a teacher is to guide you on your own learning path.)
  • Nuestro deber como sociedades es pedirle cuentas a nuestros dirigentes. (Our duty as societies is to hold our leaders accountable.)

And this list wouldn’t be complete without a Spanish saying that includes the word “deber“.

Quien no la debe, no la teme.” This is a very old idiomatic expression that is still used. It means that if one has done nothing wrong, there is no need to worry.

5. Review for deber conjugation

Let’s briefly review all the things “deber” can do so you don’t forget them.

“Deber” can be a debt, like:

  • Yo siempre pago lo que debo. (I always pay what I owe.)
  • ¡Me debes una! (You owe me one!)
  • Si no la debes, no la temes. (If you don’t owe it, you don’t fear it.)

“Deber” can be an obligation:

  • Debes llamar antes de las dos de la tarde. (You must call before 2 o’clock in the afternoon.)
  • No debemos hacer ruido. (We must not make noise.)
  • Debes terminar tu tarea. (You must finish your homework.)

“Deber” can be a thing:

  • Es mi deber informarles sobre lo que está ocurriendo. (It is my duty to inform you about what is happening.)
  • Es un deber de todos educarnos a nosotros mismos. (It is everyone’s duty to educate ourselves.)
  • Todos tenemos derechos y deberes. (We all have rights and duties.)

Deciphering verbs is one of the most pleasant ways to expand vocabulary and practice conjugation at the same time. That’s why at Spring Spanish we have a playlist dedicated to verbs!

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