Unit 7.2

Should vs Ought to


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Introduction

Both should and ought to belong to the group of auxiliary modal verbs that have no meaning on their own but they modify the main verb, change its meaning and give more details about the action.

Should and ought to are used to express obligation and duty through advice or recommendations.

Form

Should and ought to are always followed by the infinitive of the verb. They have the same forms even for the third person singular (affirmative, negative and interrogative).

Affirmative forms

  • should: Subject + should + infinitive + …
  • ought to: Subject + ought to + infinitive + …

Negative forms

  • should: Subject + should + not + infinitive + …
  • ought to: Subject + ought + not + to + infinitive + …

Interrogative forms

  • should: Should + subject + infinitive + …?
  • ought to: Ought + subject + to + infinitive + …?

Example

Should:

  • I should call the police.
  • You shouldn’t be here.
  • Should we leave the city?

Ought to:

  • You ought to clean up your room.
  • She oughtn’t to have said such mean things.
  • Ought we to go now?

Use

Both of these modal verbs have a very similar meaning and one can replace the other. They can be considered not to be as strong as must.

However, should is used much more often and it is less formal than ought to. Ought to is almost never used in interrogative and negative form.

Summary

The modal verbs should and ought to express weaker obligation or advice. They are always followed by the infinitive.

They differ in usage despite both having similar meanings.

  • Should is used more often and is less formal.
  • Ought to is very uncommon in everyday use, especially in its negative and interrogative form, and is generally more formal.

For example:
—  “You should apologise.” / “You ought to apologise.” = Should and ought to have similar meaning.

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

Exercises

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