Is the Russian должен (быть) to be used analogous to must?

Particularly can one say не должен (быть)

  • for must not as in prohibition
  • or would that rather mean, it shouldn't (as linguee suggests)
  • or is it to be understood it's not necessary?

Or is that negation rather uncommon at all?

  • 1
    'Не должен' is vague. It may mean mere lack of debt/duty/obligation as well as direct prohibition; there are clearer ways to express both. There is also 'должен не' which is mostly used together with 'а': 'Когда идёшь по улице, ты должен не ворон считать, а глядеть под ноги.'
    – ach
    Jun 5, 2014 at 8:42
  • 1
    When people whose native language is Russian are learning English, the translation of должен into English is one of the hard topics. It can be translated as must, should, have to, ought to, etc. depending of the context.
    – Artemix
    Jun 5, 2014 at 9:04

1 Answer 1


Должен/не должен (быть) may mean must/must not or should/should not depending on the context:

Солдат должен быть готов отдать жизнь за свою страну.
A soldier must be ready to give his life for his country.

Пассажиры не должны разговаривать с водителем во время движения автобуса.
Passengers must not talk to the driver while the bus is moving.

Compare with:

Этот ресторан должен быть где-то тут.
This restaurant should be somewhere here.

Там не должно быть очень шумно.
It shouldn't be too noisy there.

As you can see, the translation can be either must or should and depends on the specific sentence that you're translating.

[It's] not necessary is a translation of необязательно:

Знание иностранного языка - необязательно.
Knowledge of foreign language isn't necessary.

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