Ought to and should

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Ought to and should

Modal auxiliaries are helping verbs that connect with normal/ordinary verbs to express a meaning, ask a question or negate. Modal auxiliaries are never used with the main auxiliaries; be, have and do, and do not make sense on their own, therefore, they must be connected with a normal verb in order to make sense. Here, we are going to elaborate on two very similar modal auxiliaries. ought to and should.

Do modal auxiliaries change form?

Modal verbs never change form (they cannot be conjugated). (Note that modal auxiliaries are never followed by ‘to’ before the infinitive, except with, need to, ought to and dare to.

Ought to

Used in the present, future and past. We use ‘ought to’ to express or ascertain what is correct.

  • You ought not to speak so loudly young lad.
  • I ought to make a trip to the United States one day.
  • I really ought to have seen him yesterday. (past = ‘ought to’ + present perfect).

Used for advice or recommendations

  • You ought to learn how to play the violin, you’d be good at it.
  • She oughtn’t to have left her books on the desk.
  • You ought to try some of the fresh apple pie I just made.

Used to express what we like or would like to see happen

  • Lawyers ought to earn more money for all the hours that they put in.
  • I ought to see my father at some point.
  • Older people oughtn’t to be sent to a retirement home.

Should

This modal auxiliary is used to express obligation (obligation of a lesser degree than ‘must’ or ‘need to’). 

  • You shouldn’t go to town dressed like that Jimmy.
  • I should really do my taxes at some point.
  • They should always wait and look both ways before crossing the road.

We use should to express duty

  • People should always be careful with their belongings.
  • You should get up early every morning if you want to live a healthy lifestyle.
  • You should be the commander in chief.

We use should for deduction

  • If we’re lucky we should win the race in no time.
  • I should be able to come to the party tomorrow around 18h if that’s okay?
  • Our colleague isn’t here yet, but he should be arriving shortly.

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

Lesson #: 13 Should

Explanation

  • We use should to give advice or recommendations.
  • Should is used to express obligation (obligation of a lesser degree than ‘must’, ‘have to’, or ‘need to’.
  • We use should to express duty. I.e., you should always be careful with your belongings. He should be the commander.
  • Should is used to deduct (when something is probable). I.e., If we’re lucky we should win the race. I should be able to come tomorrow if I don’t have to work.

Context

  • How are your studies going, Michael?1
  • Not too bad.2 I really have to study hard3 if I want to get into the university next semester.4
  • How many hours are you studying per week, then?5
  • Well, I’m studying about ten hours a week.6
  • That’s not much! You should be doing more than that.7 I would say around fifteen hours per week minimum.
  • I agree, I really shouldn’t be so lazy.8
  • Get your act together.9 Come on! One should work hard if they want to achieve things.10 Once you get into university, you’ll need to study more than what you’re doing now.11
  • Do you think I have much chance of getting into university12 next semester, then?
  • You should have no problem13 getting in as long as you put the hours in.14
  • OK, then. Thanks for the peep talk. I should really get back to it.15
  • Good luck.
  • Thanks, 

Analysis

  1. How are your studies going, Michael? The present continuous/progressive is used here (be + verb + ing). We use the present continuous to describe an action in the moment, and to describe current states.
  2. Not too bad. Don’t confuse to with too.
  3. I really have to study hard. The form ‘have to’ expresses obligation and is of a higher degree than ‘should’.
  4. I really have to study hard if I want to get into the university next semester. Get into is a phrasal verb meaning ‘to enter’. I.e. Let’s try to get into the building. I got into university last year.
  5. How many hours are you studying per week, then? The present continuous is used here to describe a state. The action is not happening in the exact moment but is still a present state. The present continuous can be used for states and actions happening in the exact moment.
  6. Well, I’m studying about ten hours a week. The present continuous (be + verb + ing) is used to describe a state.
  7. You should be doing more than that. Should, is used here to give strong advice.
  8. I agree, I really shouldn’t be so lazy. Should, is used here to express obligation. In this case, obligation to oneself to not be so lazy.
  9. Get your act together. This is an expression with the meaning of ‘start being productive’.
  10. One should work hard if they want to achieve things. Should, in this case is used to express duty. It is a duty to work hard in order to achieve things.
  11. You’ll need to study more than what you’re doing now. ‘What you’re doing now’ is the present continuous tense to express the current state.
  12. Do you think I have much chance of getting into university? The phrasal verb ‘get into’ is used here to refer to his ‘entering’ university.
  13. You should have no problem getting in. Should, is used in this context to deduct a probable event.
  14. You should have no problem getting in as long as you put the hours in. The phrasal verb put in means ‘contribute’ or ‘add something’. It can also be separated with the object going between ‘put’ and ‘in’. For example: I put in a lot of hours this week or I put a lot of hours in this week. Both examples are correct. The object hours can go between put and in.
  15. I should really get back to it. Should is being used here to express obligation.

Lesson #14: Ought to

Explanation

  • We use ‘ought to’ to express correctness, which could be factual things or advice.
  • ‘Ought to’ is used for giving advice or recommendations.
  • We use ‘ought to’ to express what we would like to see happen.

Context

  • Do you know what I ought to do, Silvia?1
  • What?
  • I ought to be more adventurous.2
  • Life is getting to boring, is it?3
  • That’s the way I’ve been feeling lately.4 I feel as if the only thing I do is work, work, work, and more work.
  • You ought to go out more.5
  • I know, right. Any ideas?
  • You could do so many things, man. You could join a club, learn a language, go out partying, or even find a religion!
  • Great ideas. I love them all. Seriously though, I really ought to find a way to spend my free time, because lately I’ve felt as if I’m spending all my time at work.

Analysis

  1. Do you know what I ought to do, Silvia? The modal auxiliary verb ‘ought to’ is used here to express correctness. In other words, what would be the correct thing to do.
  2. I ought to be more adventurous. ‘Ought to’ in this example is being used to express what he would like to see happen.
  3. Life is getting too boring, is it? The question tag, ‘is it?’ is used instead of a normal question, because the transmitter (person asking the question) already assumes the answer. We generally use question tags in English when we assume the answer and a confirmation is needed. I.e. You’re working, aren’t you? I’m tall, aren’t I? The question tags in these questions are ‘aren’t you?’ and ‘aren’t I’?
  4. That’s the way I’ve been feeling lately. ‘I’ve been feeling’ is the present perfect continuous being used to describe an action or experience that, due to its nature, occurs right until the present moment.
  5. You ought to go out more. ‘Ought to’ is being used to give advice.

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