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Quick question on müssen

The words for "I don't need to do (something)" and "I must not do (something) can both be translated to something along the lines of "Ich muss (es) nicht tun." Is there any way to show the difference between these two connotations in German?

Not being required to do something and being required not to are two very different thoughts, and I have no idea how to show that difference in German.

January 31, 2018



One would use dürfen for things that one is and is not allowed to do.

Example: Hier darf man nicht parken. -> You can not park here.


"du musst nicht" = "you don't have/need to", and "you mustn't" = "du darfst nicht".

E.g. in "Du musst nicht in die Schule gehen", it would be understood that "nicht" is linked with "du musst" ("you don't have to -- go to school"), not with "in die Schule gehen" ("you have to -- not go to school").

One side note, though: my English book at school claimed that in northern Germany it's a thing to say e.g. "Du musst nicht in die Pfützen springen!" = "You mustn't jump into the puddles", but I'm not sure I've ever come across that kind of phrasing. Any northerner here? (I've always been curious about this...) One way or another: don't use that kind of phrasing, you will be misunderstood.


I must not do something is not Ich muss etwas nicht tun, but Ich darf etwas nicht tun. Ich muss nicht is I don't have to or I don't need to.


For "I don't need to do (something)", I usually use brauchen + zu. An example from one of my textbooks: Wir alle müssen Steuern zahlen. Ich verdiene nichts. Ich brauche keine Steuern zu zahlen.

There's lots of guidelines as to when each is used (and to me, müssen is the strongest along with konnen if someone just doesn't have the ability to do something) but the modal verbs are really tricky since they are gradations and are very much context based (if I were talking about another person or making a suggestion, I'd use sollen versus a polite (very polite) allowed / not allowed which would be dürfen).

Sorry to have confused more than helped ... did I mention I hate modal verbs?:)

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