Meaning of “should” in the English Dictionary

"should" in British English

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shouldmodal verb

uk strong /ʃʊd/ weak /ʃəd/ us strong /ʃʊd/ weak /ʃəd/

should modal verb (DUTY)

A2 used to say or ask what is the correct or best thing to do:

If you're annoyed with him, you should tell him.
You should take the bus - it's the easiest way to get there.
"Should I apologize to him?" "Yes, I think you should."
You should be ashamed of yourselves.
This computer isn't working as it should.
There should be an investigation into the cause of the disaster.
He said that I should see a doctor.
I should have written to her but I haven't had time.
You shouldn't have said anything.
Where should (= do you suggest that) we meet tonight?
It's rather cold in here. Should I (= do you want me to) turn the heating on?

More examples

  • You should always check your oil, water and tyres before taking your car on a long trip.
  • I think I should have given check at move 23 instead of trying to find a safer square for the rook.
  • Who should I make out this cheque to ?
  • Under no circumstances should you approach the man.
  • A long wool coat is a classic no wardrobe should be without.

should modal verb (PROBABLE)

B1 used to show when something is likely or expected:

My dry cleaning should be ready this afternoon.
You should find this guidebook helpful.
I wonder what's happened to Annie. She should be (= it was expected that she would be) here by now.
UK "Could you have the report ready by Friday?" "Yes, I should think so (= it is likely that it will be ready)."
This should be good (= this is likely to be interesting or amusing).

More examples

  • The building work should be finished by Christmas.
  • We should get around 50 people at the event.
  • I think it should stay sunny all afternoon.
  • According to his teacher, he should pass the exam.
  • The football match should be really tense.

should modal verb (POSSIBILITY)

formal used when referring to a possible event in the future:

If anyone should ask for me, I'll be in the manager's office.
Should you (= if you) ever need anything, please don't hesitate to contact me.

mainly UK used after "that" and adjectives or nouns that show an opinion or feeling:

It's odd that she should think I would want to see her again.
It's so unfair that she should have died so young.

mainly UK used after "that" to suggest that a situation possibly exists or might come into existence:

We agreed that we should meet the following week.

mainly UK formal used after "so that" and "in order that" to show purpose:

He took his umbrella so that he shouldn't get wet.

mainly UK formal used after "for fear that", "in case", and "lest":

He took his umbrella in case it should rain.

More examples

  • Should you need it, there's more food in the fridge.
  • It's strange that he should have confided in her.
  • We agreed that we should meet the next week.
  • Should the money not be forthcoming, we will have to go to court.
  • I agreed that he should continue to see the children.

should modal verb (REASON)

B2 mainly UK also would used after "why" when giving or asking the reason for something:

Why should anyone want to eat something so horrible?
Why should she not buy it if she can afford it?

More examples

  • Why should I do all the tidying up?
  • Why should the boys get more to eat than the girls?
  • Why should Maurice care if the shop closes down?
  • I don't see why he should get more money than me.
  • Why should they have to travel second class?

should modal verb (WOULD)

UK formal used instead of "would" when the subject is "I" or "we":

I should like a cup of tea before I go to bed.
I shouldn't expect you to pay, of course.

More examples

  • I think I should like to go to bed now.
  • I shouldn't want to be paid for the work.
  • I should like to speak with Mr Lansley.


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

"should" in American English

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shouldmodal verb

us /ʃʊd, ʃəd/

should modal verb (DUTY)

used to express that it is necessary, desirable, or important to perform the action of the following verb:

He should have told me about the change in plans.
People like that should go to jail.
Where should we meet tonight?

should modal verb (PROBABLE)

used to express that the action of the main verb is probable:

She should be back at any minute.
If you follow these directions, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding our house.
That should be enough food for five people.

should modal verb (OPINION)

fml used to express a desire or opinion:

I should think he’d be happy just to have a job.
I shouldn’t worry about that if I were you.

should modal verb (ASKING WHY)

used after a question word, such as "how" or "why," when asking a reason for something:

How should I know where you put the car keys?

(Definition of “should” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

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