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нужно/надо было vs пришлось

 

What's the difference between нужно/надо было and пришлось? As I understand it both constructions mean "had to", is there any difference in meaning or usage?

For learning: Russian
Base language: English
Category: Language

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    нужно and надо are absolutely interchangeable and they imply both a requirement and obligation, so you can translate them as ‘to have to’ or ‘to need’ depending on the context:

    I have to go -- мне нужно идти
    This flower needs a lot of water -- этому цветку нужно очень много воды.


    пришлось refers to the situation when you are forced to do something because of particular circumstances; eg:

    The rain started and we were forced to stay home -- начался дождь и нам пришлось остаться дома
    The company was forced to cut services because of financial troubles — компании пришлось сократить услуги из-за финансовых проблем.
    She proved him wrong and he was forced to change his opinion -- она доказала, что он неправ и ему пришлось поменять свое мнение

    Instead of 'пришлось' you can also use 'был/была вынужден(а)': ему пришлось это сделать = он был вынужден это сделать

    I'd say нужно and надо было are more about your own choice, your decision and пришлось is more about reasons beyond your control. Мне нужно было уйти = мне надо было уйти (because I wanted to meet a friend, for example). Мне пришлось уйти (because there was bad weather). I think this is only one difference.

    нужно было - I need to...
    Пришлось - have to

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