Meaning of “ought to” in the English Dictionary

"ought to" in British English

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ought tomodal verb

uk /ˈɔːt ˌtə/ us /ˈɑːt ˌtə /

ought to modal verb (DUTY)

B1 used to show when it is necessary or would be a good thing to perform the activity referred to by the following verb:

[ + infinitive ] You ought to be kinder to him.
We ought not/oughtn't to have agreed without knowing what it would cost.
"We ought to be getting ready now." "Yes, I guess we ought (to)."

More examples

  • If there's any doubt about the rocket's engines, we ought to cancel the launch.
  • I'm surprised at you behaving so badly - you ought to know better.
  • That child ought to be in bed.
  • Whoever uprooted that tree ought to be ashamed of themselves.
  • Men and women ought to be able to compete for jobs on an equal footing.

ought to modal verb (PROBABLE)

B2 used to express something that you expect will happen:

He ought to be home by seven o'clock.
They ought to have arrived at lunchtime but the flight was delayed.
If you show the receipt, there ought not to be any difficulty getting your money back.

More examples

  • In theory, the journey ought to take three hours, but in practice it usually takes four because of roadworks.
  • This sauce needs a bit of flavour - I know, some lemon juice ought to do the trick.
  • Your rash ought to clear up quickly if you use this ointment regularly.
  • He took his umbrella so he ought not to get wet.
  • Mum ought to be home from work by now, so I'll give her a ring.

(Definition of “ought to” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)