Should is an auxiliary verb, a modal auxiliary verb. We use should mainly to:
- give advice or make recommendations
- talk about obligation
- talk about probability and expectation
- express the conditional mood
- replace a subjunctive structure
Structure of Should
subject + should + main verb
The main verb is always the bare infinitive (infinitive without "to").
|subject||auxiliary verb||main verb|
- Should is invariable. There is only one form of should.
- The main verb is always the bare infinitive.
The main verb is always the bare infinitive. We cannot say:
He should to go.
There is no short form for should. The negative should not can be shortened to shouldn't.
Use of Should
should: Giving advice, opinions
We often use should when offering advice or opinions (similar to ought to):
- You should see the new James Bond movie. It's great!
- You should try to lose weight.
- John should get a haircut.
- He shouldn't smoke. And he should stop drinking too.
- What should I wear?
- They should make that illegal.
- There should be a law against that.
- People should worry more about global warming.
People often say "They should..." Usually, the "they" is anonymous and means the government, or the company, or somebody else - but not us!
should: Obligation, duty, correctness
Another use of should (also similar to ought to) is to indicate a kind of obligation, duty or correctness, often when criticizing another person:
- You should be wearing your seat belt. (obligation)
- I should be at work now. (duty)
- You shouldn't have said that to her. (correctness)
- He should have been more careful.
- Should you be driving so fast?
should: Probability, expectation
We use should to indicate that we think something is probable (we expect it to happen):
- Are you ready? The train should be here soon.
- $10 is enough. It shouldn't cost more than that.
- Let's call Mary. She should have finished work by now.
We sometimes use should (instead of would) for the first person singular (I) and first person plural (we) of some conditionals:
- If I lost my job I should have no money.
(If he lost his job he would have no money.)
- We should be grateful if you could send us your latest catalogue.
should: (If I were you I should...)
We often use the conditional structure "If I were you I should..." to give advice.
- If I were you, I should complain to the manager.
- If I were you I shouldn't worry about it.
- I shouldn't say anything if I were you.
Note that we can omit "If I were you..." and just say:
- I should complain to the manager.
- I shouldn't worry about it.
- I shouldn't say anything.
In these cases, the phrase "I should" really means something like "you should".
should: Pseudo subjunctive
We often use a special verb form called the subjunctive when talking about events that somebody wants to happen, hopes will happen or imagines happening, for example:
- The president insists that the prime minister attend the meeting.
However, this is much more common in American English. British English speakers would probably convey the same idea using should:
- The president insists that the prime minister should attend the meeting.
Here are some more examples:
typically American English
typically British English
|The president is insisting that pollution be reduced.||The president is insisting that pollution should be reduced.|
|The manager recommended that Mary join the company.||The manager recommended that Mary should join the company.|
|It is essential that we decide today.||It is essential that we should decide today.|
|It was necessary that everyone arrive on time.||It was necessary that everyone should arrive on time.|
should: Why should..? | How should..?
If we don't understand (or agree with) something, we may use "Why should..?":
- Why should it be illegal to commit suicide? It's your life.
"Why should..?" and "How should..?" can also indicate anger or irritation:
- "Help me with this." | "Why should I?"
- "Where are my keys?" | "How should I know?"