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Spanish Grammar A1 ⮟
Ser and Estar in Spanish for Beginners
Está and Hay in Spanish to Express Location
The Present Indicative in Spanish
The verb querer in Spanish: how to use it
The Verb Gustar in Spanish
Demonstratives in Spanish and Adverbs of Place
Possessive Adjectives in Spanish
The Present Continuous in Spanish: Estar + Gerund
The Gerund in Spanish: Form and Basic Uses
Expressions of Quantity in Spanish: Muy and Mucho
Spanish Grammar A2 ⮟
Present Perfect Indicative in Spanish
The Past Simple in Spanish
The Preterite Imperfect Indicative in Spanish
Indicative past tenses in Spanish
How to Express Future in Spanish
How to use por and para in Spanish
Possessive Pronouns in Spanish
Comparative Adjectives in Spanish
Ya in Spanish: Meaning and Usage
Subject Personal Pronouns in Spanish
Expressing Obligation in Spanish
Spanish Grammar B1 ⮟
The Pluperfect Indicative in Spanish
The Future Simple in Spanish
The Conditional Simple in Spanish
The imperative mood in Spanish
The present subjunctive in Spanish
Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish
General Rules of Accentuation in Spanish
Expressing Wishes with the Subjunctive in Spanish
The Use of Cuando with Indicative and Subjunctive
Position of Object Pronouns in Spanish
Spanish Grammar B2 ⮟
Advanced Uses of Conditional Simple
The Future Perfect in Spanish
The Conditional Perfect in Spanish
Present Perfect Subjunctive in Spanish
How do I use the past imperfect subjunctive?
The Pluperfect Subjunctive in Spanish
How to express probability in Spanish
Conditional Clauses in Spanish
Verbs of Change in Spanish
Reported Speech in Spanish
Spanish Grammar C1 ⮟
The passive Voice in Spanish
Adverbial Clauses of Manner in Spanish
Adverbial Clauses of Cause in Spanish
Clauses of Purpose in Spanish
Conditional Conjunctions in Spanish
Uses of the Pronoun SE with Syntactic Function
Uses of the Pronoun Se as a Verb Mark
The Indeterminate Feminine in Spanish

Expressing obligation in Spanish

Expressing obligation in Spanish is one of the most useful contents for students who learn Spanish on In this article we are going to learn how to express it using verbal periphrases.

Before we start, we should understand what a verbal periphrasis is. It is a group of verbs (usually two) that convey meanings that a single verb cannot.

Estoy comiendo / Voy a comer

The first verb is in personal form, with endings for each person, (estoy o voy) and the second in non-personal form, infinitive, gerund or participle, (comiendo o comer). Both verbs can be joined by connectors (a, de, que…) or not.



If you are interested in learning more about verbal periphrases, read our B1 level article Verbal Periphrasis in Spanish.

Now we are going to learn how to use these verb phrases for expressing obligation in Spanish.

Expressing Obligation in Spanish: Personal Form

We can differentiate two ways of expressing obligation in Spanish: a personal form and an impersonal form. When we specifically indicate the addressee of the obligation we can find these three verbal periphrases: tener que + infinitive, deber + infinitive and necesitar + infinitive.

Tener que + infinitive

We only need the present tense of the verb tener, the conjunction que and the infinitive of another verb.


Conjugación de la perífrasis tener que en español


Strictly speaking, tener que is used for expressing obligation in Spanish when it is externally imposed. That is, we do something because someone or something imposes it on us.

Lo siento, no puedo ir. Tengo que trabajar mañana.

Deber + infinitive

To form this periphrasis we use the present tense of the verb deber and the infinitive of another verb. As you can see, there is no linking word between the two verbs.


Conjugación de la perífrasis deber + infinitivo


According to the Academia, deber is used for expressing obligation in Spanish when it is imposed internally. That is, the speaker imposes the obligation on himself, usually for moral, ethical or ideological reasons.

Sé que no debo hablar así a mis padres, pero no puedo evitarlo.

Despite these differences, today the verbal periphrasis tener prevails in everyday speech, including the uses we have seen for deber.

Necesitar + infinitive

The last personal periphrasis we are going to study is necesitar + infinitive. This verb group is conjugated in a similar way to the previous one. We are not going to use any connectors between the two verbs:


Conjugación de la perífrasis verbal necesitar + infinitivo en español


The biggest difference with the previous verbal periphrases, is that necesitar expresses obligations motivated by physical or psychic lacks (hunger, thirst, sadness, fear…) and whose action will produce a benefit in the person.

Lo siento, voy a parar porque necesito beber un poco de agua.

We have to be careful when translating the verb to need from English. This verb is used for more general obligations by English speakers. In many cases, the verb to need is translated as tener que or deber in Spanish and not as necesitar.

You need to be quiet! = ¡Tienes que estar en silencio!

Expressing obligation in Spanish: impersonal form

Expressing obligation in Spanish is possible without referring to a specific person. In that case, the obligation affects all the members present in the conversation or any person. Let’s look at two constructions.

Hay + que + infinitivo

The verbal periphrasis hay que uses the impersonal form of the verb haber. Our students and readers have previously studied this form to express the existence of something (Hay mucha gente en la calle). If you want to review this usage, you can read our article Está and hay in Spanish to express location.

 Hay que limpiar la casa. No podemos vivir así.

Since it is an impersonal form, we do not change the verb ending.

Es necesario + infinitive

Although strictly speaking it is not a verbal periphrasis, we can also use this construction for expressing obligation in Spanish. As it happens with hay que, the form es necesario remains invariable, since it refers to non-specific persons.

Es necesario obtener el pasaporte para viajar a China.

As we can see, learning Spanish is not difficult. It is just a matter of putting into practice the contents you learn with your teachers at If you want, you can do it in our conversation classes.