Mustn’t and Don’t Have To
How would you translate the sentence, “Das müssen Sie nicht lesen”?
- You mustn’t read that.
- You don’t have to read that.
If you would say, “You don’t have to read that,” you are correct. The expressions “mustn’t” and “don’t have to” are often confused by German speakers of English.
Remember that, as a general rule,
- mustn’t = darf nicht and
- don’t have to = muss nicht.
If you say, “You mustn’t read that,” you are giving your conversation partner a direct order to NOT read something, which can be offensive. You are saying, “You are not allowed to read that.” What you want to say is that there is no need for the other person to read the document (because it’s boring or irrelevant or whatever). These two meanings are quite different.
Similarly, if you say, “You don’t have to tell Harry that there will be a surprise party for him on Friday,” you are telling your conversation partner that he/she CAN tell Harry about the surprise party, but it is not necessary. He/she may then tell Harry and ruin the surprise. You should say, “You mustn’t tell Harry….”
Now try this quiz: