how to express past obligation

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Today we are going to look at talking about past obligation.

Remember that in the present we use the modal verb “must” and the verb “to have to” to express obligation. They are very similar in meaning but “must” indicates stronger obligation.

Look at some examples:

You must study more! If not, you will fail all your exams.
Devi studiare di più, altrimenti verrai bocciato a tutti gli esami.

I have to go to the supermarket this evening. I need to buy fruit, biscuits and milk.
Oggi pomeriggio devo andare al supermercato. Ho bisogno di comprare frutta, biscotti e latte.

The past of both “must” and “to have to”, however, is the same: had to.

Here are some examples:

Last week I had to go to hospital as I broke my arm.
La settimana scorsa sono dovuto andare all’ospedale perché mi sono rotto un braccio.

We had to work hard in order to get a raise.
Abbiamo dovuto lavorare sodo per ottenere un aumento di stipendio.

You had to pass all your exams to become a doctor.
Hai dovuto passare tutti gli esami per diventare dottore.

To form questions, we use the following structure:

Did + subject + have to + the base form of the verb, i.e. the infinitive without “to”

For example,

Did you have to get up early on Saturday morning?
Ti sei dovuto alzare presto sabato mattina?

Did they have to study last night?
Hanno dovuto studiare ieri sera?

“did not have to” or, with contraction, “didn’t have to” indicates that something was not necessary. For example,

You didn’t have to help me but thank you anyway. It was very kind of you.
Non c’era bisogno che mi aiutassi, però grazie lo stesso. È stato molto gentile da parte tua.

We didn’t have to work yesterday because it was a bank holiday.
Ieri non abbiamo dovuto lavorare perché era festivo.