Muszę, just powinienem or maybe mam?

I’ve been searching high and low the information about the usage of the verb „mieć” which you probably know very well. The thing is, today we are going to learn to use it in a slightly different way.


But let’s start from the beginning, not from the end. We have three ways to express very similar states: „Muszę”, „Powinienem”, „Mam”. The first two are fairly easy for an English speaker.

„Musieć” means simply both „must” and „have to”, additionally „nie musieć” means „don’t have to”. Nothing interesting. Let’s move on.

Why did I write the infinitive between quotation marks? Because the word „powinnieć” doesn’t exist. The infinitive of the word „powinien” doesn’t exist, however, some people use „powinnieć” or „mieć powinność”. The usage is a little more complicated because the form depends on the gender. Doesn’t this word behave like a adjective? I believe it used to be an adjective. A million years ago. Anyway, this is how we conjugate it.

In the present and in the future (masculine (or masculine–personal)/ feminine (or non–masculine–personal)/ neuter):

  • Ja powinienem/ powinnam.
  • Ty powinieneś/ powinnaś.
  • On/ ona/ ono powinien/ powinna/ powinno.
  • My powinniśmy/ powinnyśmy.
  • Wy powinniście/ powinnyście.
  • Oni/ one powinni/ powinny.

And in the past:

  • Ja powinienem był/ powinnam była.
  • Ty powinieneś był/ powinnaś była.
  • On/ ona/ ono powinien był/ powinna była/ powinno było.
  • My powinniśmy byli/ powinnyśmy były.
  • Wy powinniście byli/ powinnyście były.
  • Oni/ one powinni byli/ powinny były.

Oh, by the way, it means „should”. Without any catches. But there will eventually be some. Seatbelts fastened?

I would like to make you more conscious about the problem with this verb. I couldn’t find any advice on how we use it correctly. I asked a few Poles — each gave me a different comment. The other difficulty is that we can’t really say that this verb is stronger or weaker than „musieć and „powinnieć”. Sometimes it’s weaker, sometimes it’s stronger, sometimes it’s a synonym of one of these.

If we think about these three verbs for a moment, we’ll notice that „should” is „weak”, „must” is „strong” and there’s also „mieć” somewhere. Where exactly? It depends on a certain situation. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1. Giving an order.
You can shout: „Masz to zrobić!”. By this sentence we mean that our servant must do it because that’s what we want. „Musisz to zrobić!” sounds weaker, sounds as if we desperately needed help with the task we can’t do on our own. „Powinieneś to zrobić” sounds way weaker and I think there’s nothing to explain if you just translate it into English.

2. To be supposed to/ must.
Suppose you want to be employed in a company, you talked to the manager and he told you to write him a e–mail. You can comment this situation by „Mam mu napisać maila” — „I’m supposed to write him an e–mail” or „I must write him an e–mail”. It means that he is expecting a message from you and you, on the other hand, care about the case and it’s important for you to send this e–mail. So in this situation „Mam” in fact means „Muszę”. And you could say „Muszę napisać mu maila” as well. However, it doesn’t give the information that it was exactly the manager who told you to do it.

3. To be supposed to/ should.
Your mum asked you to water the flowers. It’s your task, given by somebody (your mum). In this case you could say: „Mam podlać kwiatki”. How is this situation different from the first one? The task is way less important. You know that if you don’t water these flowers, nothing really bad will happen. So you could also say: „Powinienem podlać kwiatki”. In this situation „Mam” means „I should”.

4. To be supposed to.
We use „musieć” as a direct synonym of „to be supposed to” too. Your typical plan for Monday is to wake up at 7:00 and go to school. Yesterday was Monday but you didn’t go to school anyway. Because you wanted to stay at home. You could say: „Miałem iść/ pójść do szkoły, ale nie chciało mi się” — „I was supposed to go to school but I didn’t want to”.

5. Would.
„Mieć” + tryb przypuszczający (created in English with „would”) is a typical connection. In this manner we express that we don’t truly understand our speaker, that we are surprised at what they said. Some examples:

  • Miałbym pracować dla niego za darmo?! — I would work for him for free?!
  • Dlaczego miałbym cię kłamać? — Why would I lie to you?
  • Po co Lewandowski miałby przejść do Wisły Kraków, jeśli w Bayernie ma większe możliwości rozwoju? — Why would Lewandowski go to Wisła Kraków if he has more development opportunities in Bayern?
  • A po co mieliby przyjeżdżać? — What would be the point of their visit?

One more important thing: we don’t use „mieć” + verb in the future tense. „Będę miał zrobić/ będę mieć zrobić” doesn’t exist. Now you know everything about „musieć, „powinnieć” and „mieć”. Try to do the excercise below.

Comment the post here or on Facebook.

Choose the right form of „musieć”, „powinnieć” or „mieć”.

  1. (On) … iść do sklepu, mama mu kazała.
  2. Jak myślisz: (ja) … go przeprosić?
  3. (Ty) … go przeprosić!
  4. (Ja) … to zrobić — jeśli nie, to stracę pracę!
  5. Po co (ja) … iść na piechotę, jeśli mogę pojechać tramwajem?
  6. (One) … porozmawiać, tak byłoby lepiej.
  7. (Wy) … porozmawiać, ja tak mówię i tak ma być!
  8. (Oni) … rozmawiać, jeśli chcą żyć w spokoju.

The answers to the exercise are below — press ctrl + A on your keyboard to see them.

  1. Ma iść do sklepu, mama mu kazała.
  2. Jak myślisz: powinienem/ powinnam go przeprosić?
  3. Masz/ musisz go przeprosić!
  4. Muszę to zrobić — jeśli nie, to stracę pracę!
  5. Po co miałbym/ mam iść na piechotę, jeśli mogę pojechać tramwajem?
  6. Powinny porozmawiać, tak byłoby lepiej.
  7. Macie porozmawiać, ja tak mówię i tak ma być!
  8. Muszą rozmawiać, jeśli chcą żyć w spokoju.

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