The question is on the highlighted sentence in this excerpt from L'Étranger by Camus.

J’ai dit : « Il est tard. » Raymond le pensait aussi. Il a remarqué que le temps passait vite et, dans un sens, c’était vrai. J’avais sommeil, mais j’avais de la peine à me lever. J’ai dû avoir l’air fatigué parce que Raymond m’a dit qu’il ne fallait pas se laisser aller.

I understand that it means, "I must have looked tired."


  1. What would this mean: Je dois avoir eu l’air fatigué.

  2. How does one say in French: "I had to look tired." (Imagine that you, wanting to stay in for the evening, had told your friends you were too tired to go out. But that only brought them to your house, and now you had to look the part.)


You don't have to read this background to answer the question above. Possibly it may only cause confusion.

Consider these two groups of sentences.

Group 1

(D1) Ich musste müde aussehen.
(E1) I had to look tired.
(F1) J’ai dû avoir l’air fatigué.

Group 2

(D2) Ich muss müde ausgesehen haben.
(E2) I must have looked tired.
(F2) Je dois avoir eu l’air fatigué.

If we only had the German and the English sentences, we may say that Group 1 was all about the past. Both the looking (seeming, appearing) and the modality are in the past. But in Group 2, only the looking is in the past while the modality is in the present. Group 2 is about the speaker's present estimation of his past appearance.

But apparently, French does not work like that. F1 is in meaning a present modality about a past condition even if its surface grammar suggests something else, namely a past modality about a coeval (i.e. past) condition (state, event).

We may say that F1 has taken on F2's job. Which leads to the questions 1 and 2 as above.

Also I am worried about sentence pairs like these (which may not even be well formed sentences):

(F1') J'ai pu le dire.
(F2') Je peux l'avoir dit.

Before encountering F1 in Camus, I may have thought (guessed) F1' meant, "I was able to say that (e.g. fortunately)" and F2' "I could have said it (e.g. but who knows, I was drunk)." But now I wonder whether F1' also steals the job of F2'.

  • Related (see the note at the end) even though it doesn't answer this question. french.stackexchange.com/a/6287/79 Nov 28, 2015 at 16:07
  • Also from the same novel: "Il relatait un fait divers dont le début manquait, mais qui avait dû se passer en Tchécoslovaquie." "J'ai dû lire cette histoire des milliers de fois."
    – Catomic
    Mar 11, 2016 at 3:40

1 Answer 1


Devoir is used here to express a probability.

  • J’ai dû avoir l’air fatigué -> I probably looked tired

I don't see much difference with :

  • Je dois avoir eu l’air fatigué -> I might have looked tired

I would translate "I had to look tired" by Il fallait que j'aie l'air fatigué.

  • J'ai pu le dire. is ambiguous, it can mean either "I might have said it" or "I was able to say it".
  • Je peux l'avoir dit. is not. It only means "I could have said it".
  • "J'ai dû avoir l'air fatigué" est également ambigu. Cela peut vouloir dire: "I had to look tired". (Even if it is a weird way to say it, I admit.)
    – Arthur
    Nov 28, 2015 at 21:39
  • @Arthur That's true in general but I wrote "here" and there is no ambiguity in Camus's sentence.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 29, 2015 at 0:07
  • @Arthur I agree with jilliagre, no ambiguity in Camus' sentence. It is past tense. It could well be translated by "I must have looked tired", which does not have any ambiguity either even though it uses "must".
    – Law29
    Nov 29, 2015 at 0:44
  • Indeed! But with the later comparison with 'pouvoir' (in the general case), it seems like you understate that all constructions with 'devoir' are unambiguous (in general case).
    – Arthur
    Nov 29, 2015 at 0:56

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