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10.13 The modal verbs "dürfen" und "müssen"

Present tense of "dürfen"
We have already had an introduction to German modal verbs and their usage in Chapter 8 of this course. Here are the present tenses of two more modal verbs which we have encountered in this chapter:

ich darf I am allowed to
du darfst
Sie dürfen
You are allowed to
er/sie/es darf He/she/it is allowed to
wir dürfen We are allowed to
ihr dürft
Sie dürfen
You are allowed to
sie dürfen They are allowed to

Usage of "dürfen"
The verb "dürfen" corresponds to English "be allowed to" or "can" (in the sense of having the permission to do something).

  • Was dürfen Sie essen?
    (What are you allowed to eat?)
  • Dürfen Sie Alkohol trinken?
    (Can you drink alcohol?)

Information!Great care must be taken when translating the English word "can" into German. You need to distinguish between two different possible meanings of "can": "to be able to do something" (= "können") and "to have permission to do something" (= "dürfen"). For example:

  • Ich kann Rad fahren.
    (I can (= know how to) ride a bicycle.)
  • Ich darf Rad fahren.
    (I can (= have permission to) ride a bicycle.)
  • Andrea kann Deutsch.
    (Andrea can (= knows how to) speak German.)
  • Andrea darf nach Deutschland fahren.
    (Andrea is able to (= has permission to) go to Germany.)

Present tense of "müssen"

ich muss I must
du musst
Sie müssen
You must
er/sie/es muss He/she/it must
wir müssen We must
ihr müsst
Sie müssen
You must
sie müssen They must

Usage of "müssen"
The verb "müssen" corresponds to English "must" or "to have to". For example:

  • Ich muss abnehmen.
    (I must lose weight.)
  • Am Abend muss ich immer lernen.
    (In the evenings I have to study.)

The negative of "dürfen" and "müssen"
Great care must be taken when using "dürfen" and "müssen" in the negative. Although "müssen" is used to translate "must", it is "nicht dürfen" which is used to translate "mustn't" in the sense of "not being allowed to do something".

The words "nicht müssen" are instead used to translate "don't have to". For example:

  • Michael darf das nicht tun.
    (Michael must not do that.)
  • Michael muss das nicht tun.
    (Michael does not have to do that.)
  • Alkohol darf ich nicht trinken.
    (I'm not allowed to drink alcohol.)
  • Alkohol muss ich nicht trinken.
    (I don't have to drink alcohol.)

Weiter! Chapter 10.14: Adverbs and word order

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