Mieliśmy się spotkać. (Question)


#1

Some advice please … (BTW, this is not a CM sentence).

When I initially translated ‘mieliśmy się spotkać’, my initial thoughts were that it should be ‘we have met’.

However, I checked it on Google translate and this stated ‘We were supposed to meet’, which means something different and is a verified translation on Google T.

I’m just a bit puzzled about the grammar behind the ‘supposed’ element in the translation. Is it because ‘mieliśmy’ comes from ‘mieć’, which is an imperfective verb, therefore this suggests an action that was not completed? In other (more literal) words, 'We were ‘having’ to meet (but didn’t)??? Thanks!


#2

When used as an auxiliary verb (together with the infinitive of another verb), mieć means “must / have to / need to”. Sometimes it can also mean “supposed to”, as it does in this particular sentence.

Some examples:

  • Masz to sprzątnąć! (You have to clean this up! [imperative, not very polite])
  • Powiedział, że mam oddać mu pieniądze. (He said I need to give him back the money.)
  • Mamy się spotkać o 19:00. (We’re supposed to meet at 7PM.)

The “must / need / have” meaning might feel a bit distant from “supposed to”, but if you think about it, in English you can often express pretty much the same thing with the two (He said I need to give him back the money. = He said I am supposed to give him back the money.)

You should note, however, that “mieć” is mostly used to express obligations that have something to do with other people – in other words, social arrangements, requests, commands, etc.

If you’re doing something of your own volition, “mieć” won’t be the right verb to use:

  • Muszę się nauczyć polskiego. (either because that’s the goal you set for myself, or because someone else expects that of you = internal / external obligation)
  • Mam się nauczyć polskiego. (you can only say this if someone is making you learn Polish, and not merely hoping that this will happen = strong external obligation)

All in all, the Polish auxiliary mieć doesn’t have anything in common with the auxiliary have in English, which is used to express the perfect aspect.


#3

Many thanks for a great explanation. It is the first time anyone has explained this point of grammar to me and it makes perfect sense.

Previously I had only encountered ‘mieć’ in the sense of possession e.g. ‘Mam samochód’ (I have a car), not in the sense of a compulsion to do something. I’d previously just thought about musieć/muśić as having this meaning.

I understand that:-

  • Mieć + auxiliary verb = to be obligated to do something (for/with someone else)
  • Muszę = I am obligated to do something (for my own benefit)

Does the example around ‘muszę’ extend to all all conjugations of ‘musieć/muśić’?

For example, I’ve seen quite a few sentences on CM such as ‘Musisz iść’ (you must go) or ‘Musisz przestrzegać kodeksu szkoły’ (You must follow school rules). Does this still suggest that the person being obligated to carry out the action needs to do it for their own benefit? Can it depend on conjugation and context? Thanks!


#4

Actually, “muszę” is universal and covers all kinds of obligations, both external and self-imposed. So if you’re translating “must” or “have to” from English, “musieć” will pretty much always be a safe choice—whereas “mieć” will only make sense if there is clear external obligation involved.

I’ve edited the examples in my previous post to account for that.