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“Dovere” Conjugation in Italian: All You Need to Know

If you feel you have to learn Italian before your long-awaited trip to Rome, or to talk to your Italian friends, you might as well start with the verb dovere, which literally means “to have to”, “to be obligated to” and must; depending on the conjugation, it also encompasses the meanings of “should”, “be supposed to” and “need to”.

Moreover, dovere can in some contexts mean “to owe” and is also used as a noun: if I say something is il mio dovere it means it is “my duty”.

  • È nostro dovere prenderci cura del pianeta su cui viviamo.
    It is our duty to care for the planet we live on.

Make it your duty to master the dovere conjugation and you will really step up your Italian skills!

In this post we’ll learn how to use the Italian verb dovere correctly, how to conjugate it in the main tenses used in speaking and writing, and when to use it in context with examples and a dialogue.

Let’s get started!

Dovere: What Kind of Verb Is It?

Dovere is an irregular verb of the second conjugation, so it does not follow the usual pattern for the verbs ending in -ere. Later, we will look at all its conjugations in detail.

Dovere is a transitive verb, which means it takes a direct object.

Dovere is also a special kind of verb, one of those we call modal (or helping) verbs, just like volere “(to want” or “have the will to”), sapere (“to know how to”) and potere (“to be able to” / “can”). These verbs are always followed by another verb, and they define and describe the “mode” of the action.

In Italian, we call these verbi modali o servili.

Dovere: When to Use

In Italian, we use dovere in all kinds of contexts. You can use it casually to say that you “need to” ,“have to” or “must” do something,

  • Devo andare in bagno!
    I need to go to the toilet!
  • Dobbiamo parlarci chiaro se vogliamo capirci.
    We must speak clearly if we want to understand each other.
  • Dovete partire presto se non volete trovare coda.
    You have to leave early if you don’t want to find traffic.

If you use it in the conditional form, (see below for full dovere conjugation in the conditional) dovere means “should”.

  • Dovrebbe stare più attento mentre guida.
    He should be more careful while driving.
  • Secondo te dovrei scriverle?
    Do you think I should text her?

To Owe

In the meaning of “to owe” dovere takes a direct object, which can be an actual object, usually money, or a figurative one, like an apology or a favour.

  • Ti devo delle scuse.
    I owe you an apology.
  • Lui mi deve ancora dei soldi.
    He still owes me money.
  • Mi devi una cena.
    You owe me a dinner.

If you use it in the past, the passato prossimo implies you paid your debt back. If you use the imperfetto, on the other hand, it is unclear if you did pay or not.

  • Gli hai dovuto soldi per molto tempo.
    You owed him money for a long time. (But you paid it back.)
  • Gli dovevi dei soldi, no?
    You owed him money, right? (It is unclear whether you still do or not.)

Dovere Conjugation with Compound Tenses

Before looking at the conjugation of the verb, we need to clear some things up. These points will help you in choosing the correct helping verb for the compound tenses (verbs formed by more than one word), and to really speak like a native!

The Past Participle of Dovere

As we just mentioned, a compound tense is formed by more than one word. Usually, it is made up of an auxiliary verb (essere or avere) and a past participle.

Knowing the conjugations of the auxiliary and the participle of the verb dovere will allow you to form all the compound tenses… Isn’t that great?

The past participle of the verb dovere is dovuto. When we use the verb essere as an auxiliary, it will change according to the number and gender of the subject:

  • Masculine singular:
    • Io sono dovuto…
      I had to…
  • Feminine singular
    • Io sono dovuta…
      I had to…
  • Masculine plural
    • Noi siamo dovuti
      We had to…
  • Feminine plural
    • Noi siamo dovute…
      We had to…

Dovere Conjugation: Compound Tenses

Now that you know how to form the participle, let’s look at the auxiliary verb you need to choose to build compound tenses.

Dovere is a transitive verb, which means it always takes a direct object. With the meaning of “to owe” that we just saw, there is a true object (money, an apology, etc.). In this case, you will always use the verb avere in compound tenses.

  • Non mi hai mai dovuto soldi, lo sai.
    You never owed me money, you know that.
  • Sapeva che mi avrebbe dovuto delle scuse, ma fece finta di niente.
    She knew she owed me an apology, but she pretended she didn’t.

In the case of modal verbs, however, the object is always a verb. See the object in bold below:

  • Devoi andare al bagno?
    Do you have to go to the bathroom?
  • Noi non dobbiamo andare.
    We don’t need to go.

When forming compound tenses, therefore, the modal verb dovere can take both auxiliaries essere (to be) and avere (to have):

  • Io ho dovuto… / io sono dovuta(female speaker)
    I had to…
  • Non abbiamo dovuto… / non siamo dovuti…
    We didn’t have to…

Essere or Avere?

So, how do you choose between essere and avere?

Choosing to use the auxiliary essere (to be) or avere (to have) always depends on the verb that comes after dovere.

Dovere is a helping verb, which means it will take the verb that the verb it is helping needs.

How do you know if a verb takes essere (to be) or avere (to have) in compound tenses? There are some general rules, but the easiest way to be sure is to check an Italian dictionary! In brackets, after the verb, you will find “auxiliary verb”, which will tell you all you need to know!

TIP: Remember, if you use the auxiliary verb essere (to be), the past participle of the compound tense will have to agree in gender and number with the subject! (In this case you will need to choose between dovuto, dovuta, dovuti, dovute.)

Some examples:

  • Uscire (to go out) takes essere as an auxiliary verb:
    Non siamo dovute uscire tardi ieri sera.
    We didn’t have to go out late last night.
  • Chiamare (to call / ring) takes avere as an auxiliary verb:
    Avresti dovuto chiamarmi!
    You should have called me!

Some extra rules

When you use a modal verb followed by essere, the auxiliary must be avere.

  • Ho dovuto essere chiaro.
    I had to be clear.

When used with reflexive verbs, the position of the personal pronoun dictates whether you use essere or avere as an auxiliary. If it is before, use essere, if it is the suffix of the main verb, use avere.

  • Vi siete dovuti lavare.
    You had to wash yourselves.
  • Avete dovuto lavarvi.
    You had to wash yourselves.

Now, we’re ready for the conjugations!

Dovere Conjugation

Now that we’ve seen all the basics and learned when and how we can use the verb dovere (and when we can’t!), let’s have a look at its conjugations.

Here, you’ll find all the conjugations you need divided into levels: from beginners to advanced (and up to those tenses even some native Italian speakers get wrong!).

In the following tables, we will use the verb avere (to have) as the auxiliary to build compound tenses.

Don’t forget, though, that dovere also takes essere (to be) when the verb it is helping needs that auxiliary. (And do not forget to change the participle so that it agrees in gender and number with the subject!)

Dovere Conjugations for Beginners

First of all, let’s look at the conjugations for the most used verbs in the indicative mood: the present (presente), simple future (futuro semplice), imperfect (imperfetto), and present perfect (passato prossimo).

The indicative mood is a verb form used to make statements, ask questions and express facts and opinions. If you are starting to learn Italian, these are the first verb tenses you will need, for sure!

Presente Imperfetto Passato Prossimo Futuro
Io devo dovevo ho dovuto dovrò
Tu devi dovevi hai dovuto dovrai
Lui / Lei deve doveva ha dovuto dovrà
Noi dobbiamo dovevamo abbiamo dovuto dovremo
Voi  dovete dovevate avete dovuto dovrete
Loro devono dovevano hanno dovuto dovranno
  • Devo andare in posta domani mattina, mi accompagni?
    I have to go to the post office tomorrow morning, will you come with me?
  • Dovrete impegnarvi di più se volete dei buoni risultati.
    You’ll need to put in more effort if you want good results.
  • Siamo dovute tornare a casa sotto la pioggia perché non avevamo l’ombrello.
    We had to walk home in the rain as we did not have an umbrella.

Dovere Conjugations for Intermediate Learners

In this section we will look at some more conjugations in the indicative mood: past perfect (trapassato prossimo), preterite (passato remoto), past preterite (trapassato remoto) and future perfect (futuro anteriore).

These are more complex (or used more rarely, especially in spoken language) and are all compound tenses, except the passato remoto.

This means you will just need to learn the conjugations for essere and avere and add the past participle dovuto.

Trapassato prossimo  Passato remoto  Trapassato Remoto Futuro anteriore
Io avevo dovuto dovetti/dovei ebbi dovuto avrò dovuto
Tu avevi dovuto dovesti avesti dovuto avrai dovuto
Lui / Lei aveva dovuto dovette/dové ebbe dovuto avrà dovuto
Noi avevamo dovuto dovemmmo avemmo dovuto avremo dovuto
Voi  avevate dovuto doveste aveste dovuto avrete dovuto
Loro avevano dovuto dovettero/doverono ebbero dovuto avranno dovuto
  • Sarebbero dovuti uscire prima, ora siamo tutti in ritardo.
  • They should have left earlier, now we’re all late.
  • Avevi dovuto chiamare per prendere un appuntamento?
    Did you have to call to book an appointment?
  • Dovette chiederle scusa molte volte prima che lei si decidesse a perdonarlo.
    He had to apologise many times before she decided to forgive him.

Dovere Conjugations for Advanced Learners

Here we will look at the conditional mood of the verb dovere, used to talk about facts or events that depend on a certain condition, and the subjunctive mood, which expresses hypothetical situations or wishes, demands and suggestions.

The Conditional Mood

Condizionale presente Condizionale passato 
Io dovrei avrei dovuto
Tu dovresti avresti dovuto
Lui / Lei dovrebbe avrebbe dovuto
Noi dovremmo avremmo dovuto
Voi  dovreste avreste dovuto
Loro dovrebbero avrebbero dovuto
  • Dovresti provare a fare yoga tutte le mattine, fa davvero bene!
    You should try doing yoga every morning, it is really good for you.
  • Avreste dovuto chiamarli prima di partire.
    You should have called them before you left.

The Subjunctive Mood

Congiuntivo presente Congiuntivo passato  Congiuntivo Imperfetto Congiuntivo 


Che io debba abbia dovuto dovessi  avessi dovuto
Che tu debba abbia dovuto dovessi avessi dovuto
Che lui / lei debba abbia dovuto dovesse  avesse dovuto
Che noi dobbiamo abbiamo dovuto dovessimo  avessimo dovuto
Che voi  dobbiate abbiate dovuto doveste  aveste dovuto
Che loro debbano abbiano dovuto dovessero  avessero dovuto
  • Penso che dobbiate semplicemente parlare e chiarirvi.
    I think you should simply talk and clear things up.
  • Non so come avrei fatto se avessi dovuto finire il progetto da sola.
    I don’t know what I would have done if I had to finish the project alone.
  • Se dovessi partire, mi mancheresti molto.
    I would miss you a lot if you had to leave.

Dovere Conjugation: Infinitive, Participle and Gerund

The verb dovere does not have a conjugation in the imperative mood, but here are some more details on its verbals: the infinitive, participle and gerund.

Infinito Participio Gerundio
Presente (present) dovere  dovendo
Passato (past) avere dovuto dovuto avendo dovuto

Dovere in Context: a Dialogue

I hope this guide on the conjugation of dovere was useful!

Before you go, let’s see some more examples of the verb dovere in context.

Lucio Dovresti provare a meditare tutte le mattine, aiuta molto se sei stressata.  You should try meditating every morning, it really helps if you’re stressed. 
Marina Hai ragione, però prima devo imparare!  You’re right, but I need to learn how to do it first!
Lucio Vieni con me al centro Buddhista sabato mattina, io e Monica ci saremmo dovuti andare ieri, ma non siamo riusciti.  Come with me to the buddhist centre Saturday morning, Monica and I were supposed to go yesterday, but couldn’t.
Marina Mi piacerebbe, grazie!  I would love to, thank you!
Lucio Non c’è problema. Tra l’altro ti devo un favore per la chiamata che hai fatto il mese scorso.  No problem. I even owe you a favour for last month’s call.
Marina Ma figurati, non mi devi proprio niente! No way, you don’t owe me anything at all!

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning the dovere conjugation might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of sentences with forms of the verb dovere.

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