Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English

Should: forms

Affirmative form

Should comes first in the verb phrase (after the subject and before another verb):

I should go home now.

Should cannot be used with another modal verb:

It should probably be sunny at that time of year.

Not: It should may be sunny … or It may should be sunny

Negative form

The negative form of should is shouldn’t. We don’t use don’t, doesn’t, didn’t with should:

There shouldn’t be many people at the beach today.

We use the full form should not in formal contexts or when we want to emphasis something:

We should not forget those who have given their lives in the defence of freedom.

Question form

The subject and should change position to form questions.

Warning:

We don’t use do, does, did:

Should I turn on the air conditioning?

Not: Do I should I turn on the air conditioning?

Shouldn’t you be studying now?

We use should and shouldn’t in question tags:

I shouldn’t have told her that, should I?

They should be getting back on Sunday, shouldn’t they?

Should: uses

What is ideal or desired

We use should most commonly to talk about what is the ideal or best thing to do in a situation:

There should be more public hospitals.

They should reduce the price of petrol. It’s so expensive.

There should be four more candles on the cake.

We use should have + -ed form to talk about things that were ideal in the past but which didn’t happen. It can express regret:

Everyone knows that this is a busy restaurant. They should have made a reservation.

I should have studied harder when I was young. I wish I had gone to college.

Advice and suggestions

We often use should to give advice and make suggestions:

You should tell him what you think.

We should leave it until tomorrow; it’s late now.

What is likely to happen

We also use should to talk about what is likely to happen:

Shall we start? Luke’s delayed but he says he should be here in ten minutes.

There should be a very big crowd at the party. Mary has so many friends.

Conditional sentences

Warning:

We sometimes use should in hypothetical conditional clauses with if to express possibility. It is formal:

[information leaflet in a hotel room]

If you should wish to use the Internet, there is a code available at the reception desk.

If you should decide not to go on the trip, you will get a full refund.

Warning:

We can also use Should you as an alternative to If you should in these situations by changing the order of the subject and the verb. Compare these two sentences with the examples above. They have the same meaning and they are also formal:

Should you wish to use the Internet, there is a code available at the reception desk.

Should you decide not to go on the trip, you will get a full refund.

Thanking

Spoken English:

In speaking, we often say you shouldn’t have when someone gives us a gift:

A:

I got you something from Texas. A cowboy hat.

B:

Oh Ken, you shouldn’t have!

Surprise or regret

We sometimes use should to express surprise or regret about something that happened:

I’m amazed that he should have done something so stupid.

I’m sorry that he should be so upset by what I said.

Should and would

We use should as a more formal alternative to would with I and we in conditional clauses.

Compare

formal

neutral

I/We should love to meet her again if I/we had a chance.

I/We would love to meet her again if I/we had a chance.

We use should as a more formal alternative to would when we want to be less direct.

Compare

formal

neutral

I should think that a lot of people will be interested.

I would think that a lot of people will be interested.

Should and ought to

Should and ought to have similar meanings and uses. Ought to is more formal and less common than should:

We should clean up the garden.

We ought to clean up the garden.

Should is much more common in negatives and questions than ought to:

Should we keep a seat for Margaret? (more common than Ought we to keep a seat …?)

He shouldn’t speak to his parents in that way. (more common than He oughtn’t/ought not to speak …)

(“Should” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)
Add Cambridge dictionaries to your browser to your website

Word of the Day

scrumpy

an alcoholic drink made from apples

Word of the Day

Blog

Read our blog about how the English language behaves.

Learn More

New Words

Find words and meanings that have just started to be used in English, and let us know what you think of them.

Learn More