DOVERE / AVERE BISOGNO DI / MI SERVE / BISOGNA
This week I want to unravel the mystery in using three different Italian verbs that have a similar translation into English. Because of this, they are sometimes tricky to use.
I am talking about the verbs dovere – avere bisogno di – servire.
They all express a need. Nevertheless, they can’t be used indifferently to say in Italian I need or I must. Hence, you need to know when it is correct to use one or another.
What’s the difference between dovere, avere bisogno and servire?
How to use the verb DOVERE
Dovere is a verb with different meanings.
When you must, need or have to do something, you should opt for the verb dovere. An infinite (non-conjugated) verb always follows dovere in this instance.
Obligation – I must – I need – I have to
uscirein anticipio dall’ufficio– I need to get off work earlier
dovuto cancellarela riunioneperché stavomale – I had to cancel the meeting because I was sick
Responsibility – I am supposed to
You can use dovere when in English you would you “I am supposed to”.
- Devo finire la relazione entro venerdì – I am supposed to finish the paper by Friday
Use dovere in the imperfect tense when you want to express that something was supposed to happen but didn’t for whatever reason.
- Dovevo partire per il mare ieri, ma non ho potuto – I was supposed to leave for the sea tomorrow, but I couldn’t
How do you know when
Warning or suggestion – I should, you should, etc…
The conditional of dovere is used to give a warning or a suggestion in Italian
- Se vai a Roma, dovresti visitare il Giardino degli aranci – If you go to Rome, you should visit Il Giardino degli Aranci
HOW TO USE THE VERB “AVERE BISOGNO DI”
That being said, Italian has another common verb expressing a need, which is the verb avere bisogno di (literally: to have the need of)
No need to say I have listened to this verb misused countless times. Why so?
One is driven to think that avere bisogno dicorresponds to the English to need. It is…and it is not.
What is the difference between DOVERE and AVERE BISOGNO DI
Dovere is used when followed by another action, or verb.
- Devo comprare una macchina nuova
Instead, when you need something, you can use avere bisogno di
- Ho bisogno di una nuova macchina – I need a new car
- Ho bisogno di fare una bella vacanza in una spa per rimettermi in forma – I need a to take a vacation at spa to get back in shape
Avere bisogno di is also used with the pronouns me/te/lui/lei/noi/voi/loro, like the in following example
- Hai bisogno di me? – Do you need me?
HOW TO USE THE VERB ” SERVIRE“
It is not over. As wordy as they are, Italians have another way to express a need that implies the verb servire. The use of servire does not vary from the one of avere bisogno di.
If you want to say that you need “a thing”, you can say
- Mi serve + singular noun → mi serve una mozzarella di bufala per fare la pizza napoletana – I need a bufala mozzarella to make a Neapolitan pizza
- Mi servono + plural nouns → mi servono due uova per fare la torta – I need two eggs to make the cake
As you might have noticed, the verb, servire follows the same pattern as the impersonal verb
Mi serve / servono
Ti serve..? servono…?
Gli serve / le serve / gli servono/le servono
Ci serve / ci servono
Vi serve… ? / vi servono…?
Gli serve/ gli servono
Some tips and trick to use the verbs dovere and avere bisogno di correctly in Italian
- An infinite verb always follows dovere (when expressing a need)
- A noun always follows servire
- A noun can follow avere
bisognodi can be used with pronouns me – te – lui– lei – noi– voi– loro
bisognodi can be followed by an infinite verb when it means that you need to do something in order to do something else
I need to go → devo andare – it’s is CORRECT!
I need to go → ho bisogno di andare – it’s WRONG!
I need a hot bath to freshen up → ho bisogno di un bagno caldo per ricaricarmi – it’s CORRECT
Another common expression expressing a need is…
HOW TO USE THE VERB “BISOGNA“
Another common verb expressing a need or an obligation for some action to be performed is the strictly impersonal verb bisogna.
Bisogna exists just in simple tenses (simple future, simple conditional, etc..) and is used only in the third person singular. An infinite verb always follows it when the subject is not identified.
- Bisogna pagare il conto prima di ordinare il caffe – it is necessary to pay the bill before ordering the coffee
If the subject is determined, bisogna is followed by che + subjunctive
- Bisogna che mio figlio studi di più – It is necessary that my son study more
the modal verbs: imperfetto vs passato prossimo
You should know that there is a fine difference between sating ho dovuto and dovevo, ho potuto and potevo, ho voluto and volevo. The modal verbs change their meaning depending on whether they are used in the imperfetto and passato prossimo.
The rule of thumb is that the passato prossimo of modal verbs (ho dovuto/ ho potuto / ho voluto) denotes “certainty” – the action described by the verbs took place. Instead, the imperfetto of modal verbs (dovevo/potevo/volevo) indicates “uncertainty” – we don’t know whether the action took place or not.
- ieri dovevo andare al cinema (I had the intention of going to the moves, but we don’t know whether the action took place or not)
- ieri sono andata al cinema (I went to the movies, we know the action took place)
if you want to know more about this topic, read my post about the verbs whose meaning changes in the passato prossimo and imperfetto