Understanding when to use “Should”

We use the modal auxiliary should in the following ways.

  1. To express idea or advice, as:

    • We should create a business proposal.
    • You should see a gynecologist.
    • You should have a morning walk daily.

    Note that, we sometimes use should with the phrase “I think,” “I don’t think” or “Do you think?” as the following expressions show.

    • I think you should do what he says.
    • I don’t think he should carry on with the plan.
    • Do you think he should carry on with the plan?
  2. To express expectation of moral duty, as:

    • He should have gone to a prison for what he did.
    • We should be allegiant to our friends.
    • You shouldn’t tell lies.
  3. To express assumption or deduction:

    The modal verb should expresses assumption, deduction, guess, probable condition, or inference, as:

    • It should be about 5.00 p.m. now..
    • This coat should be about five months old.
    • Andy should be in Memphis now.
  4. To express obligation

    The modal verb should expresses obligation, logical necessity or recommendation, as:

    • You should take a bus to Selhurst Park.
    • They should be home by now.
    • Applications should be submitted on or before 31st January.

    Note that, we use should and ought to for obligation and advice, to say what is the appropriate thing or the best thing to do. Survey the following:

    • They should (ought to) build more hospitals
    • They shouldn’t (oughtn’t to) leave litter all over the place.
    • They should (ought to) go to New York. It’s an interesting place.
    • I shouldn’t (oughtn’t to) leave things until the last month.
  5. To express probability

    We also use should and ought to to say that something is probable, either in present or in future. Note how the following sentences illustrate this use.

    • I enjoyed his first concert. So the new one should (ought to) be interesting.
    • We should know the result tomorrow.
    • They should be reaching this place soon.
  6. To express wishes:

    • I should like to live in the country.
    • I should hate to see them languishing.
  7. To express condition:

    • If you should see Jackson this evening, can you tell him to phone me?
    • Should you need further clarification, do not hesitate to call for my attention.
    • Should you visit the mall, kindly buy me a loaf of bread.
  8. Obligation in the past

    To express obligation in the past, the structure should + have + past participle or ought to + have + past participle is used to talk about an obligation in the past. We often use this construction to indicate some criticism or regret. Survey the examples below.

    • He should (ought to) have asked me before he took my scooter.
    • We should (ought to) have taken a taxi when there was bus strike.
  9. Expressing Expectation

    The structure should + have + past participle or ought to + have + past participle is used to express an expectation that something happened, has happened, or will happen. Survey how the following sentences illustrate this use.

    • It’s seven o’clock. They shouldn’t have left home yet – I’ll phone them.
    • I should have phoned Ed this morning, but I forgot.
    • He should have taken a first aid kit on such a venture.
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