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得、必须 & 应该: Learn about “have to & don’t have to” in Chinese

  • (děi, have to)
  • 必须 (bìxū, must)
  • 不用(bú yòng, don’t have to)
  • 不必 (bú bì, not necessary)
  • 应该 (yīng gāi, should)
  • 不应该(bù yīng gāi, shouldn’t)

The differences between 得、必须 and 应该

得 (děi) and 必须 (bìxū) are obligation words in Chinese. 得 (děi) means “have to” and is less strong than 必须 (bìxū), which means “must.” Using 得 (děi) implies that it is necessary to do something, otherwise a goal or outcome won’t be achieved.

For example:

你发烧了,你得去看医生。(Nǐ fāshāole, nǐ děi qù kàn yīshēng.)
You had a fever, and you have to see a doctor.

我得赶快出发, 否则就迟到了。(Wǒ děi gǎnkuài chūfā, fǒuzé jiù chídàole.)
I have to set out in a hurry, otherwise I will be late.

必须 (bìxū) in Chinese is equivalent to “must” in English and expresses a high level of certainty. Failing to do something when 必须 (bìxū) is used can result in serious consequences.

For example:

你出国之前必须先办理签证手续。(Nǐ chū guó zhīqián bìxū xiān bànlǐ qiānzhèng shǒuxù.)
Before going abroad you must first obtain a visa.

Both 得 (děi, have to) and 必须 (bìxū, must) have the same meaning: expressing obligation. However, 必须 (bìxū, must) is more formal than 得 (děi, have to), which is colloquial and often used in daily life. In fact, 得 (děi, have to) is a dialect in northern China and is not used in formal writing.

The negative form of both 必须 (bìxū, must) and 得 (děi, have to) is 不用 (bú yòng), which is equivalent to  “don’t have to” In English. You can also use 不必 (bú bì, not necessary), which is the same as 不用 (bú yòng).

For example:

我明天不用早起。(Wǒ míngtiān bú yòng zǎoqǐ.)
I don’t have to get up early tomorrow.

我可以自己从机场回家,你不必来接我。(Wǒ kěyǐ zìjǐ cóng jīchǎng huí jiā, nǐ bú bì lái jiē wǒ.)
You don’t need to pick me up at the airport. I can get home by myself.

The word “得” can also have the same meaning as “需要” (xūyào, need).

For example:

这辆车得多少钱?( Zhè liàng chē de duōshǎo qián? how much money needed to buy this car? )
In this sentence, you cannot use “必须” instead of “得”.

Another word that expresses necessity is “应该” (yīng gāi), which is similar to “should” in English.

For example:

我们应该帮助穷人(wǒmen yīnggāi bāngzhù qióngrén)
We should help the poor.

The negative form of “应该” is “不应该” (bù yīng gāi), meaning “shouldn’t”.

For example:

他不应该对妈妈那样说话。(Tā bù yīng gāi duì māma nàyàng shuōhuà.)
He shouldn’t talk to his mother like that.

Understanding the differences between 得 (děi), 必须 (bìxū), and 应该 (yīng gāi) will increase your fluency in Chinese by allowing you to accurately describe things that you need to do and things that you need others to do.. While these words might seem similar at first glance, each carries its own unique connotations and usage. These verbs are common in everyday life, so you will be sure to encounter them at work, at school, or when talking with friends or family. So keep practicing and incorporating these verbs into your daily Chinese conversations, and soon enough, you’ll be speaking like a native!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. First of all, thanks for posting this article, and all the other ones that I’ve come across.

    With regards to this page: I get the idea, but I find your explanations too long, and examples not always the best: “whereas 必须 (bìxū) would be equivalent to English must, is very sure, if you don’t do something that will cause serious consequences.” is not a good explanation to explain the difference from 得. Also, 一定要 is missing form this series of expressions relation to ‘(not) must/have to’.
    More in general, I find these explanations often quite elaborate, they could (and should) be much more consise, to the point. The articles can much shorter, which makes them more clear and improves learning. I take notes and rework/merge various sources of information. This is when I realise that often there is so much (confusing) redundance in the sources.

    More than once I have found mistakes on your pages (sorry, I don’t recall them all), but here’s one:
    出国 = going abroad (not: going aboard)
    You may argue it’s only a small mistake, but on a website that is trying to teach a language, such mistakes should have been taken out in a review process. When I find such mistakes I start to wonder the validity of the rest of the information.

    Please don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for the work you’re posting, and if I send you my feedback it’s only because I see an opportunity to make the content on your pages even better.

    1. Dear L. van Groningen,

      Thank you for your comment. We really appreciate the feedback like this.

      We explained the words very elaborate because there were many learners who were still at a relatively low level and we were worried about if they could understand the content or not. That`s why we gave each of the explanation of the words and following several examples. But you are right, we should make both long and concise versions in the article to adapt to different audiences.

      Regarding the typos you mentioned, we are really sorry about it. Most of the editors are Chinese whose English may not as good as the native English speakers. The typos are the one we always try to avoid. But sometimes it still happens… Anyway, we will try and work harder on it. Luckily, we have the audiences like you who often give us feedback to make the website better. Thank you again!

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