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I'm trying to figure out how to mark the difference between "should" and "must" in Ukrainian, and it's turning out really confusing. Google-translate translates "I should cook" as "Я повинен готувати" but then if I swap the languages it translates "Я повинен готувати" back into English as "I have to cook" rather than "I should cook", so clearly "повинен" is not making the distinction I'm looking for; my dictionary also says "should" is "повинен/повинні" but then says "повинен" is "must, have to".

So, how do you say "I should do X" in Ukrainian in a way that is distinct from "I have to do X"? Or is there just not really a distinction between these meanings, or does it depend on something about the context/form/etc?

2 Answers 2

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On the “I must cookI should cook” gauge, я повинен готувати IMHO is really closer to I must cook than to I should cook. It's literal translation is “I owe to cook” (“I'm obligated to cook”).

As a side note, the following also exist:

  • я мушу готувати — literally “I must cook”;
  • я маю готувати — literally “I have to cook”;
  • мені треба/потрібно готувати — literally “I need to cook”
    • мені необхідно готувати — de facto the same thing (the original meaning was kinda “I inevitably need to cook”, but the word необхідно lost a large part of its strength during time);
  • мені належить готувати — the same as я повинен готувати.

In practice, these words are taken literally not always; sometimes one says something like “I must cook” while actually meaning something like “I should cook” and is perfectly understood, and vise versa. That's why (IMHO) Google Translate collected not the closest-matching translations here. But if the obligation/optionality ratio matters, one can say:

  • мені слід готувати — probably, the most literal English match here would be “I am supposed to cook”, but, still, the obligation/optionality range that dictionaries state for слід is wider than one for to be supposed;

    or — with even more optionality —

  • мені варто готувати — literally “it's worth if I cook” (“it makes sense if I cook”, “it would be beneficial if I cook”).

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  • Thank you! I knew about the first two but they sounded even more like "have to". Followup questions: Is "слід" in common use? Does "Мені треба готувати але я не буду" (if that's even correct) sound like a sensible Ukrainian sentence? (In English "I should cook but I won't" is perfectly normal but "I have to cook but I won't" sounds odd, because if you have to then you generally will, so I'm trying to use that to see if Ukrainian is more ambiguous there.) How would you normally say that in Ukrainian?
    – weronika
    Apr 29, 2022 at 15:53
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    @weronika, "Мені треба готувати але я не буду" sounds perfectly ok for me. If it's not an "external" requirement (from someone else) but rather my own need to have some food, then I would rather say "мені варто було б готувати їжу, але я не буду" (but your variant also looks fine for me).
    – Sasha
    Apr 29, 2022 at 19:19
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    Two side notes: (1) The meaning of the word готувати is simply "to prepare". It may be used not only for food but also for everything else. So in some cases it would make sense to say explicitly what you need to prepare — готувати їжу ("to prepare food") while in other cases it's not required. (2) Punctuation rules in Ukrainian are slightly different from English ones, we usually put comma before але.
    – Sasha
    Apr 29, 2022 at 19:21
  • Thank you for the extra information! Makes sense.
    – weronika
    Apr 30, 2022 at 14:26
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Not an answer, just thoughts and comparing words in historical or semantic way

  • Must → мусити — cognates because of loanword from German, the same roles¹.
  • Have to → маю — literal translation, the same roles.
  • Need → нужда-ти(ся) — cognates, almost the same roles. But нужда has rare usage, потреба is often used here.
  • Thairтреба — cognates, almost the same roles. In this case thair has rare usage, need is often used here.
  • Shall → повинний — the same meanings if we look old semantic of shall ← *skel- which means to be obligated, owe, to be guilty. The same roles.
  • Slide → слід — cognates, not the same meanings.
  • Worth → варто — cognates, because of loanword from German, not the same roles but amost the same meanings. Вертіти is more true cognate but no the same meanings.
  • To lie on → належати — cognates, have the same meaning in some cases but not here.

  1. I get those roles from here:

    Use must for:

    • Obligations you feel strongly about: I must remember to send him a birthday card.
    • Obligations in formal, written English: All employees must wash hands.
    • Strong advice: You must read it—it’s an amazing story!
    • Saying something is forbidden, if you use mustn’t: Children must not be left unattended.

    Remember that mustn’t or must not are more formal, and in spoken English it’s more common to say can’t.

    You use have to for:

    • Obligations which depend on rules or circumstances: I have to wear glasses because I can’t see so clearly.
    • Most obligations in spoken English: Do you have to work tomorrow?
    • Saying something is not necessary: You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.
    • Strong advice: You have to try this ice cream!

    Using have to for strong advice sounds more conversational than using must.

    You can use should for:

    • Giving advice: You should try once more—I’m sure you can get it.
    • Giving negative advice: You shouldn’t work so hard. Take a break sometimes!
    • Giving your opinion: If they make us work overtime, they should pay us for it.

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