Conjugation of Dovere: How to Say “Have to” in Italian

Dovere is the Italian verb for “must/to have to”. Uncover the conjugation of dovere in the most common tenses and moods.

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Conjugatiion of dovere is one of the first things you must learn to do in Italian. Why? Because we use dovere to talk about what we have to do or need to do. If you want to talk about having to buy something before a trip or how you have to stay at work late to finish a project, this is the verb you’ll use.

Dovere isn’t a regular verb, so while it ends in -ere, it won’t conjugate according to the standard Italian verb conjugation patterns. It’s also a modal verb (verbo modale), like volere, and it can be followed by another verb. Read on to learn how to conjugate dovere and begin using it today.

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What can we use dovere for?

Dovere as a verb translates to “to have to” but it can also generally mean:

  • Should
  • Must
  • Be supposed to
  • Need to
  • To be required/obligated to
  • To owe

Dovere expresses duty or necessity. It’s similar to avere bisogno (to have a need). While avere bisogno implies an internal need, dovere implies more of an external obligation, the two are mostly interchangeable. Here’s two examples below to help demonstrate this nuance:

  • Ho bisogno di mangiare. (I need to eat.)
  • Devo mangiare. (I must/have to eat.)

As a verb, dovere is transitive. It must take a direct object (like money, a favor, etc.) or another verb. When it takes a direct object, it takes on the meaning “to owe”.

  • Ti devo una cena. (I owe you dinner.)

It can also take on other verbs – more on that in a moment. First, let’s look at how to conjugate dovere into the present simple tense.

Present tense – indicativo presente

The verb dovere is irregular in the present tense or indicativo presente. See below for how it’s formed:

How to conjugate dovere in the present tense

Italian pronoun + dovere verb English translation
Io devo I have to
Tu devi You have to
Lui/Lei deve He/She has to
Noi dobbiamo We have to
Voi dovete You have to
Loro devono They have to

Pro-tip: Italians often leave out the pronoun (I, you, him, her, etc.) when it’s clear who we’re speaking about from context. For example, it’s possible to say “io devo pagare il conto” (I need to pay the bill) without “io”, becoming “Devo pagare il conto.”

Here are some examples of dovere in the indicativo presente in a sentence:

  • Devi provare questo formaggio. (You have to try this cheese.)
  • Mi devono delle scuse. (They owe me an apology.)
  • Domani devo lavorare. (I have to work tomorrow.)
  • Le deve la sua vita. (He/She owes her his life.)

Note: Dovere has no imperative form, so when you want to tell someone they must do something, you can use the present simple.

Dovere is a helping verb

Dovere is a modal verb, same as potere (to be able to) and volere (to want). This means that it “helps” other verbs. In Italian, you can combine these verbs with an infinitive (a base verb that hasn’t been changed; equivalent to “to + any verb” in English) to change the meaning.

In the case of dovere, when it acts as a modal verb, it expresses the duty or obligation to do something. For example:

  • Io + dovere + finire = I need to finish Devo finire i miei compiti. (I need to finish my homework.)

  • Lei + dovere + andare = She must go Deve andare dal medico. (She must go to the doctor.)

Notice how the verb after dovere is always in the base form, so the endings are -are, -ere or -ire.

Present perfect – passato prossimo

Italian has two commonly used past tenses: imperfetto and passato prossimo.

We’ll start with passato prossimo, which corresponds with the present perfect or simple perfect in English. This tense is the most common of the past tenses, and it’s used for actions that have already started and ended by the time of speaking.

Dovere in passato prossimo implies you had to do something and you did it. If you’re wanting to suggest more ambiguity or uncertainty, then use our next tense: imperfetto.

It’s formed of two components: the auxiliary + dovuto, the past participle of dovere.

The auxiliary could be the conjugated form of avere (to have) or essere (to be). Which one you use depends on what’s following dovere:

  • If dovere is followed by a direct object (like money or an apology) OR by a verb that takes avere as auxiliary, then the auxiliary will be avere.


  • Ho dovuto pagare il conto. (I had to pay the bill.) Pagare takes avere as auxiliary verb.
  • Mi hai dovuto dei soldi. (You owed me money.... [implied: and you paid it off.])
  • If the verb after dovere takes essere as auxiliary, OR we’re using a reflexive verb, then dovere will take essere.


  • Mi sono dovuta lavare. (I had to wash.)
  • Siamo dovuti partire da casa alle otto. (We had to leave the house at eight.)

● One last rule: When dovere is followed by essere, then we use avere: Abbiamo dovuto essere bravi. (We had to be good.)

If that all sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. See Busuu’s guide on passato prossimo for more of a breakdown on auxiliary verbs and how to know which to use. Without further ado, let’s see how dovere looks in the present perfect / simple past.

How to conjugate dovere in the present perfect with avere

Italian pronoun + auxiliary + dovere verb English translation
Io ho dovuto I had to
Tu hai dovuto You had to
Lui/Lei ha dovuto He/She had to
Noi abbiamo dovuto We had to
Voi avete dovuto You had to
Loro hanno dovuto They had to

And here is the conjugation chart for dovere with essere as the auxiliary:

How to conjugate volere in the present perfect with essere

Italian pronoun + auxiliary + volere verb English translation
Io sono dovuto/a I had to
Tu sei dovuto/a You had to
Lui/Lei è dovuto/a He/She had to
Noi siamo dovuti/e We had to
Voi siete dovuti/e You had to
Loro sono dovuti/e They had to

When we conjugate dovere with essere as its auxiliary, the past participle dovuto will agree with the pronoun’s number (plural or singular) and gender (masculine or feminine), so the ending will change:

  • Dovuto = singular masculine
  • Dovuta = singular feminine
  • Dovuti = plural masculine
  • Dovute = plural feminine

With avere, the past participle dovuto won’t change.

Let’s take a look at some examples of dovere in passato prossimo:

  • Oggi non sono dovuto andare al lavoro. (I didn’t have to go to work today.)
  • Abbiamo dovuto comprare un biglietto in più. (We had to buy an extra ticket.)
  • Sono dovuti partire presto. (They needed to leave early.)
  • Ci ha dovuto un favore. (He/She owed us a favor…[implied] and he/she returned it.)

Advanced tip: When dovere combines with reflexive verbs, the placement of the personal pronoun will determine whether you use essere or avere as the auxiliary. If the personal pronoun is at the beginning of the sentence, use essere. If it’s attached to the main verb, use avere. See our guide on pronouns to review how pronouns can move around. Examples: Ho dovuto calmarmi. (I had to calm down.) Mi sono dovuta calmare. (I had to calm myself down.)

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Imperfect – imperfetto

On the other hand, imperfetto is a past tense that indicates an action that lasted for a continuous or undefined amount of time. Imperfetto expresses past actions that happened repeatedly, or where the outcome is unknown (as in, someone owes another something, and it’s unclear whether they still owe them.)

Imperfetto doesn’t have an auxiliary, so it’s just the single-word conjugations you see below:

How to conjugate dovere in the imperfect tense

Italian pronoun + dovere verb English translation
Io dovevo I had to
Tu dovevi You had to
Lui/Lei doveva He/She had to
Noi dovevamo We had to
Voi dovevate You had to
Loro dovevano They had to

Let’s see this tense in some examples:

  • Dovevo tornare a casa dopo la festa, ma non l’ho fatto. (I was supposed to go home after the party but I didn’t.)
  • Doveva sempre dei soldi ai suoi genitori. (He always owed his parents money.)
  • Dovevate essere qui per le 9. (You were supposed to be here by 9.)
  • Dovevano comprare molte cose per il bambino. (They had to buy many things for the baby.)

Simple future – futuro semplice

The future tense of dovere translates to “will have to”. You can see below how it changes according to each pronoun.

How to conjugate dovere in the simple future tense

Italian pronoun + dovere verb English translation
Io dovrò I will have to
Tu dovrai You will have to
Lui/Lei dovrà He/She will have to
Noi dovremo We will have to
Voi dovrete You will have to
Loro dovranno They will have to

This is how this tense looks in Italian:

  • Dovrai fare la doccia prima di cena. (You’ll have to shower before dinner.)
  • Non dovrò studiare domani. (I won’t have to study tomorrow.)
  • Domani dovranno svegliarsi presto per prendere l’aereo. (They’ll need to wake up early tomorrow to catchtheir plane.)
  • Dovremo risparmiare di più. (We’ll have to save more money.)

Conditional – condizionale presente

The conditional mood indicates the possibility of something. Dovere in the conditional is equivalent to “should” in English. Here’s how to conjugate dovere in this tense:

How to conjugate dovere in the conditional tense

Italian pronoun + dovere verb English translation
Io dovrei I should
Tu dovresti You should
Lui/Lei dovrebbe He/She should
Noi dovremmo We should
Voi dovreste You should
Loro dovrebbero They should

Here’s some examples:

  • Dovei andare a letto presto. (I should go to bed early.)
  • Dovresti farlo? (Should you be doing that?)
  • Dovrebbe chiamare l’ufficio. (She/He should call the office.)
  • Dorebbero ascoltarti! (They should listen to you!)

Gerund – gerundio

The last and shortest section for today is the gerund form. In English, this looks like “having to”. Gerundio expresses an action that is happening currently or an action that is having an effect on another action.

How to conjugate dovere in the gerund form

Present English translation Past English translation
Dovendo having to Avendo dovuto having had to

Examples of dovere in its gerund form:

  • Dovendo prepararmi per la cena, sono andato a fare la spesa dopo il lavoro. (Having to prepare for the dinner party, I went grocery shopping after work.)
  • Avendo dovuto rinunciare alla sua festa di compleanno, gli ho comprato un bel regalo. (Having had to miss his birthday party, I bought him a nice gift.)

You had to learn dovere at some point – and so you have! We all have obligations, and this verb is extremely useful for talking about all your responsibilities in Italian.

Conjugating dovere is no joke, but we’re here to help. We’re Busuu, the language learning app, and we empower Italian learners to learn and practice everything they need to know to begin speaking Italian today.

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