Unit 7.2

Ought to: Modal Auxiliary Verb


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Introduction

A modal verb is a type of auxiliary (helping) verb that has no meaning on its own but it modifies the main verb, changes its meaning and gives more details about the action.

Ought to is a type of auxiliary modal verb used to express obligation and duty through advice or recommendations.

Form

Ought to always has the same form even for the third person singular, and we find this structure in its three forms.

Affirmative

Its structure, in the affirmative form, is:
Subject + ought to + verb + …

Subject ought to Verb
I/You ought to work
He/She/It ought to work
We/You/They ought to work

Negative

Its structure, in the negative form, is:
Subject + ought + not + to + verb + …

Subject ought to + not Verb
I/You ought not to work
He/She/It ought not to work
We/You/They ought not to work

Short version of the negative form is: oughtn’t.

Interrogative

Its structure, in the interrogative form, is:
Ought + subject + to + verb + …?

Ought Subject to Verb Question
Mark
Ought I/you to work ?
Ought he/she/it to work ?
Ought we/you/they to work ?

NOTE: Should or did is used in some places instead. To is not used in question tags.

Example

Affirmative:

  • You ought to apologise.
  • He ought to work out more.
  • They ought to get the diploma soon.

Negative:

  • He oughtn’t to be wasting time.
  • Smoking oughtn’t to be allowed at school.
  • They oughtn’t to have said that to her.

Interrogative:

  • Ought I to tell my parents?
  • Ought you to be at school?
  • Ought we to read the syllabus of the course?

Use

We use ought to when:

  • We indicate weaker obligation or duty;
  • We give and ask for advice (recommendation).

Ought to can be considered not to be as strong as must.

Summary

The modal verb ought to expresses weaker obligation or advice. It can be considered to not be as strong as must.

We can use it in its different forms:

  • Affirmative: We start with the subject followed by ought to and the verb.
  • Negative: We start with the subject followed by ought not to and the verb.
  • Interrogative: We start with ought followed by the subject and to and the verb (the sentence ends with a question mark).

For example:
— Affirmative: “You ought to do your homework to understand the subject.” = Ought to is used to give a recommendation.
— Negative: “You oughtn’t to do your homework to understand the subject.” = Oughtn’t is used to give a recommendation.
— Interrogative: “Ought you to do your homework to understand the subject?” = Ought? is used to ask for a confirmation of a recommendation.
♦ “You must do your homework or you will fail the class.” = Must expresses a stronger obligation.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

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