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  • Je lui avais quand même dit qu’il ne devait pas te déranger.

I'd like to know how strongly "ne devait pas" sounds. Is it a strong warning like "mustn't" or something a little lighter like "shouldn't"?

  • I said to him, though, he shouldn't bother you.

  • I said to him, though, he mustn't bother you.

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    mustn't and shouldn't are the same thing basically, in English here. So ne devait pas would be right for both. When you want to forbid someone forcefully in English, you use /must not/ and emphasize those two words in your speech. In writing, of course, you can't emphasize it, unless you italicize it. You must not do that. This forceful use of /must not/ in French would be: ne devait absolumment pas te déranger. – Lambie Jun 28 '17 at 13:27
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    And don't forget the other meaning: "wasn't obliged to" / "didn't have to"! I've never been sure if ne devait pas expresses that too, or if there's a more natural way to say that. – Luke Sawczak Jun 28 '17 at 13:51
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Should is devrait. Conditional with devoir basically means "I can't tell you what to do, but it would be better if you ..." = "you should ..."

Indicative (imparfait here) with devoir means must (*). It's a strong obligation (or a forbidding with a negative).

(*) Both for obligations and sentences like "He must have forgotten" (Il a dû oublier)

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It means "shouldn't". It's funny because shouldn't and mustn't can be used interchangeably in French without too much confusion. For the sake of correct grammar however, "ne devait pas" would be the equivalent for "shouldn't."

On the other hand, "ne devrait pas" would be the equivalent for "mustn't." It's the same verb, but in a different tense.

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    I strongly disagree. "Tu ne devrais pas manger autant" = "You should not eat that much". – Destal Jun 28 '17 at 14:03
  • Indeed. If there is a distinction at all, the conditional is usually translated the one translated "should". – Luke Sawczak Jun 28 '17 at 14:05
  • Updated "is" to "would be" to make it less confusing as far what I was trying to say. I meant what I said within a context of speaking French and not comparing it to any language. As far as which is stronger than which, devrait > devait. When your dad tells you, "tu ne devrais pas t'associer avec ces gens impolis," that's a strong statement. You can go ahead and do it at your own risk. But when he says, "tu ne devrais pas t'associer avec ces gens impolis," there is a sense that it already happened and he's more or less giving you advice that you could follow or disregard. At your own risk. – user12679 Jun 28 '17 at 14:32

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