Devoir vs avoir besoin de to express "to need to"

Look at these two sentences expressing the idea of "need": 

J'ai besoin d'aller faire les courses avant le dîner.I need to go shopping before dinner.

Je dois aller faire les courses avant dîner.I need to go shopping before dinner.

Devoir + [infinitif] primarily means must [do] / have to [do], but in some cases it can be used as need to [do].

See Conjugate devoir in Le Présent (present tense)

Avoir besoin de + [infinitif] always means need to [do], as it literally means "to have need of".

See Avoir besoin de = To need

 

As for expressing to need [something], it will always be avoir besoin de [quelque chose] :  

Elle a besoin d'aide.She needs help.

Tu as besoin d'argent.You need money.

ATTENTION: 

Devoir [quelque chose] has a completely different meaning = to owe [something].
It can never mean to need [something].

Tu dois de l'argent.You owe money.

Patrick me doit une faveur.Patrick owes me a favour.


Special cases
:
"needing to go to the toilet"

As stated above, you can use either avoir besoin de or devoir in that case, but you could also use avoir envie de (= to feel like) in this specific case : though it can sound a bit "whimsical", it's perfectly colloquial here!

Mon fils doit aller aux toilettes.My son needs to go to the toilet.

Mon fils a besoin d'aller aux toilettes.My son needs to go to the toilet.

Mon fils a envie d'aller aux toilettes.My son needs to go to the toilet.

"needing to throw up"

Another weird case is how to say you feel nauseous, need to throw up. In French, the most colloquial expression there is to use once again avoir envie de (= to feel like), though no one really ever "feels like" vomiting!

Arrête la voiture ! J'ai envie de vomir !Stop the car! I feel nauseous!

See also Avoir envie de = To feel like, want to

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Mon fils a envie d'aller aux toilettes.My son needs to go to the toilet.
Tu as besoin d'argent.You need money.
Mon fils doit aller aux toilettes.My son needs to go to the toilet.
Tu dois de l'argent.You owe money.
Mon fils a besoin d'aller aux toilettes.My son needs to go to the toilet.
Je dois aller faire les courses avant dîner.I need to go shopping before dinner.
Patrick me doit une faveur.Patrick owes me a favour.
J'ai besoin d'aller faire les courses avant le dîner.I need to go shopping before dinner.
Arrête la voiture ! J'ai envie de vomir !Stop the car! I feel nauseous!
Elle a besoin d'aide.She needs help.

Q&A Forum 13 questions, 15 answers

SandraA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

My solution to explaining ‘avoir besoin de’ versus ‘avoir envie de’ versus ‘devoir’

Here is an explanation of how to know when to use ‘avoir besoin de’ or ‘avoir envie de’ or ‘devoir’. I figured out, after several hours and then using the link below, that to use ‘avoir envie de’ to mean ‘to have need of’ you must use it in this construction (from the lesson below):

To express to ... need [to do something], you will use avoir envie de / d' + infinitive of the verb.

Without the infinitive of a verb, avoir envie de cannot mean the same as ‘to need’. It will simply mean the same as ‘I want’. Note that ‘devoir + infinitive also means ‘to need’.

So, when trying to work out which one is correct to mean ‘to you have need of’ in the four answer options, if ‘devoir’ and/or ‘avoir envie de’ have an infinitive following them, they can also be marked as correct as ‘avoir besoin de’.

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/tests/results/5955063/system?quick-lesson-popup=7

Asked 5 days ago

My solution to explaining ‘avoir besoin de’ versus ‘avoir envie de’ versus ‘devoir’

Here is an explanation of how to know when to use ‘avoir besoin de’ or ‘avoir envie de’ or ‘devoir’. I figured out, after several hours and then using the link below, that to use ‘avoir envie de’ to mean ‘to have need of’ you must use it in this construction (from the lesson below):

To express to ... need [to do something], you will use avoir envie de / d' + infinitive of the verb.

Without the infinitive of a verb, avoir envie de cannot mean the same as ‘to need’. It will simply mean the same as ‘I want’. Note that ‘devoir + infinitive also means ‘to need’.

So, when trying to work out which one is correct to mean ‘to you have need of’ in the four answer options, if ‘devoir’ and/or ‘avoir envie de’ have an infinitive following them, they can also be marked as correct as ‘avoir besoin de’.

https://progress.lawlessfrench.com/my-languages/french/tests/results/5955063/system?quick-lesson-popup=7

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SandraA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Use of devoir

I think this lesson, and any question relating to it, should be removed until a clear lesson is written. 

Asked 1 week ago

Use of devoir

I think this lesson, and any question relating to it, should be removed until a clear lesson is written. 

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GC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Using 'devoir'

I echo the comments below regarding this lesson lacking clarity. 

The explanation of when it IS appropriate to use 'devoir' is missing and I find it easier to just memorise the correct answers rather than try to answer them using knowledge of the grammar rules.

Asked 1 week ago

Using 'devoir'

I echo the comments below regarding this lesson lacking clarity. 

The explanation of when it IS appropriate to use 'devoir' is missing and I find it easier to just memorise the correct answers rather than try to answer them using knowledge of the grammar rules.

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DA2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

besoin de/ to need to topic

I find this lesson utterly indecipherable, poorly explained and VERY frustrating. With material like this, I begin to wonder why I spent the money or the time.  

 Sometimes it's envie de, sometimes not.  the explanations supplied DO NOT SUFFICIENTLY ANSWER THE REASONING AS TO WHICH ANSWERS ARE APPROPRIATE.  I'll just eventually memorize the "correct" answers and move on.  Stupid way to learn grammar.  

Asked 3 weeks ago
GruffKwiziq team member

Hi D

I'm sorry this lesson caused you so much frustration. Thank you for letting us know so we can address that. We constantly rewrite our content to make it clearer based on student feedback so we really appreciate it.

I'll take a look and speak with the language team about what we can do to make this clearer. It can be hard for French native teachers to get into the mind of someone who's learning French from an English perspective so we'll look at this again with some of our English linguists too in order to work out how best to restructure and explain it.

We'll let you know when we update it and ask you if it's fixed the issue or needs more work to get it right.

Thanks again, Gruff

besoin de/ to need to topic

I find this lesson utterly indecipherable, poorly explained and VERY frustrating. With material like this, I begin to wonder why I spent the money or the time.  

 Sometimes it's envie de, sometimes not.  the explanations supplied DO NOT SUFFICIENTLY ANSWER THE REASONING AS TO WHICH ANSWERS ARE APPROPRIATE.  I'll just eventually memorize the "correct" answers and move on.  Stupid way to learn grammar.  

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DiegoC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

J'ai besoin d'aller faire les courses

There are a couple of examples where it says "aller faire les ...". Is this really needed, or at least natural in French? Would it make a difference to say "Je dois faire les courses", or "J'ai besoin de faire les courses"?

Asked 1 month ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Diego,

The expression 'aller faire les courses' is widely used in French for, to go shopping / to do your regular shopping-

Je dois/J'ai besoin de faire les/mes courses I must go shopping/ do my shopping 

Chris, I think you are thinking of the expression 'avoir envie de' to express want/wish.

To express something you need to do/have to do you would use 'devoir' or 'avoir besoin de faire', or even 'falloir' -

Il faut que je fasse mes courses ce matinI have to do my shopping this morning

Hope this helps!

 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

It wouldn't be wrong, really.

J'ai besoin de faire les courses. -- I want to shop.
J'ai besoin d'aller faire les courses. -- I want to go shopping.

J'ai besoin d'aller faire les courses

There are a couple of examples where it says "aller faire les ...". Is this really needed, or at least natural in French? Would it make a difference to say "Je dois faire les courses", or "J'ai besoin de faire les courses"?

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BetsyA2Kwiziq community member

When is "devoir" used to mean "need to"?

I am confused by the quizzes I am taking on when to use "devoir" and "avoir un besoin de" for "need to". The first question was: "How could you say 'You need to rest?'" I answered that both "Tu as besoin de repos" and "Tu dois de repos" are possible but was told only the first is correct. So, in the second test, when asked how to say "Marie needs to buy a new handbag", I answered only "Marie a un  besoin de ..." but was marked wrong for not ALSO choosing "Marie doit acheté..." Finally, on the third quiz, I was asked how to say "You need a new bike." In this case I chose both "avoir besoin de" and "devez..." but this time, like in the first question, I was told only the "avoir besoin de" is correct. I've studied the lesson several times. It says sometimes "devoir" can mean "need to" but it doesn't explain what those times are, and I cannot figure out any distinction in the three sentences above. Aidez moi, svp!

Asked 2 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

In the first test, the second answer would be: Tu dois te reposer.

In the second test:
Marie a besoin d'un nouveau sac à main. -- Marie needs a new handbag.
Marie doit acheter un nouveau sac à main. -- Marie must buy a new handbag.

You need a new bike. -- Vous avez besoin d'un nouveau vélo.
You must buy a new bike. -- Vous devez acheter un nouveau vélo.

Avoir besoin de... -- "to have the need for something"
Devoir faire quelque chose -- "to have to do something"

When is "devoir" used to mean "need to"?

I am confused by the quizzes I am taking on when to use "devoir" and "avoir un besoin de" for "need to". The first question was: "How could you say 'You need to rest?'" I answered that both "Tu as besoin de repos" and "Tu dois de repos" are possible but was told only the first is correct. So, in the second test, when asked how to say "Marie needs to buy a new handbag", I answered only "Marie a un  besoin de ..." but was marked wrong for not ALSO choosing "Marie doit acheté..." Finally, on the third quiz, I was asked how to say "You need a new bike." In this case I chose both "avoir besoin de" and "devez..." but this time, like in the first question, I was told only the "avoir besoin de" is correct. I've studied the lesson several times. It says sometimes "devoir" can mean "need to" but it doesn't explain what those times are, and I cannot figure out any distinction in the three sentences above. Aidez moi, svp!

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ClaudiaA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Salut a tous, c'est moi encore!

How do I know when it is appropriate to say   d'argent  or  de l'argent

diner   or   le diner?

Asked 9 months ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer

Hi Claudia, the usage of the definite article depends on several circumstances. I don't have a general rule handy to tell you. The one where it comes up most frequently is in sitations like this:

Mon voisin gagne beaucoup d'argent. -- My neighbor earns a lot of money.

Moi, je n'ai pas d'argent pour ce luxe. -- I don't have money for that luxury.

Il y a de l'argent à gagner ? -- Is there money to be made?

That's the case of the partitive article. Whenever there is a reference to a quantity (beaucoup in the first sentence, or even "no money" in the second sentence) you omit the definite article. If you are referring to money in general, as in the third example, you use the definite article.

You can read more about this here: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/partitive-article/

-- Chris.

 

ClaudiaA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Merci, vous etes tres gentil. Sorry about the accents. The computer is not set up for french yet.

Salut a tous, c'est moi encore!

How do I know when it is appropriate to say   d'argent  or  de l'argent

diner   or   le diner?

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SamA2Kwiziq community member

Hi, was this always in

Asked 9 months ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Sam !

Indeed, we regularly review the order of lessons within and across levels, and move them across when deemed appropriate, which is what happened to this lesson :)

Bonne journée !

SamA2Kwiziq community member

Oops...

Was this always in A1 or has it been moved from a higher level? I've just seen it appear recently.

Thanks,Sam

Hi, was this always in

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MB1Kwiziq community member

Sorry again. The second sentence has only “dîner” without the “le”. Is there a reason for that?

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi M

It is just a different way of saying the same thing:

Le dîner = dinner (noun)

Dîner = to have dinner (verb)

Hope this helps!

Sorry again. The second sentence has only “dîner” without the “le”. Is there a reason for that?

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MB1Kwiziq community member

Sorry was not finished.

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team member
answered...

Sorry was not finished.

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MB1Kwiziq community member

In the first example of the lesson, the sentence ends with “ le dîner”

Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team member
answered...

In the first example of the lesson, the sentence ends with “ le dîner”

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William C1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Is "avoir à" a possible alternative to "devoir"

Is avoir à a possible alternative to devoir?

Can avoir à ever be used instead of devoir? For example j'ai à vous remercier instead of je dois vous remercier.
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi William,

As the lesson points out 'devoir' can be both 'to have to' or 'to need to' something .

'Avoir à' is mostly used to indicate an idea of need rather than must as in :

Tu n'as pas à t'excuser = You don't need to apologise (in other words - it was not your fault)

Tu n'as pas à faire ça You don't need to do that ( or even: there's no need for you to do that

J'ai à faire = I have things to do (there are things I need to do

so it may be best to use 'devoir' or 'falloir' to convey the idea of 'must'.

Hope this helps!

 

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I have heard "avaoir à" used in some specific context loke:

Tu n'as qu'à ranger ta chambre. -- You only have to clean up your room. 

 But I found a more comprehensive discussion here: https://www.reddit.com/r/French/comments/1urs43/avoir_à_vs_devoir/

Is "avoir à" a possible alternative to "devoir"

Is avoir à a possible alternative to devoir?

Can avoir à ever be used instead of devoir? For example j'ai à vous remercier instead of je dois vous remercier.

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JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Devoir

We are told that devoir can sometimes mean 'to need to [do]' yet only one example is given and no further explanation. In the example devoir is followed by a verb in the infinitive. Is that how devoir can be used?
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi John,

This is quite subtle and it is when 'must' equals an imperative need to do something, rather than an obligation as the following examples will illustrate:

Je dois aller chez ma mère ce matin, elle ne va pas bien.

Je dois aller aux toilettes.

Je dois passer à la banque, je n'ai plus d'argent.

You would use 'devoir' rather than 'avoir besoin de' and as you have noticed it is followed by another verb in the infinitive.

Hope this helps!

JohnC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Merci Cécile. Maintenant je comprends.

Devoir

We are told that devoir can sometimes mean 'to need to [do]' yet only one example is given and no further explanation. In the example devoir is followed by a verb in the infinitive. Is that how devoir can be used?

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Clever stuff underway!