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The modal auxiliary ‘should’ communicates the idea that we don’t necessarily have to do a particular action, but that it is the right thing to do; it is the best idea. You have alternatives, but the particular action is the right thing to do. Consider the following examples:
- I should clean the house. (My house is not very dirty)
- You should consider carefully before moving to another country. (You could simply move without thinking about it very much)
In the examples above, we don’t know when the person is referring to. It is most likely now, the present.
‘Should’ is a modal auxiliary verb (a ‘modal’), and we must remember that we put the infinitive without ‘to’ after a modal. There are nine other modals besides ‘should:’ can, could, will, would, may, might, must, ought and shall. We put the infinitive without ‘to’ after all of them, except ‘ought.’ Some examples:
- John can write very well.
- They will never come back.
- He would buy a house if he had the money.
Here are some examples of the modal ‘ought:’
- If you want to get good grades, you ought to study hard!
- She ought to bring her famous brownies to the party, I’m sure everyone will love them.
- John ought to practice more if he wants to win the competition.
As you can see, we put the infinitive with ‘to’ after the modal ‘ought.’ If it helps you remember, when considering the ten modals you can think of this one as ‘ought to.’ ‘Should’ and ‘ought’ have the same meaning. We can use them interchangeably, but ‘should’ is more common in everyday English.
‘Should’ for the past
What do we do if we want to use ‘should’ for past time? There is a simple formula we can follow: the structure “should + have + past participle.” Remember that all English verbs have three forms: present, past, and past participle. Gone, written, eaten, bought, and called are examples of past participles.
Let’s look at that structure again: “should + have + past participle.” Some examples:
- Jack failed the exam. I suppose he should have studied more.
- I should have invested in Apple Computers forty years ago. I’d be rich!
- I shouldn’t* have gotten my wife a pair of white socks for our anniversary. She’s still mad at me!
*Note that to make the negative, we say “shouldn’t have”
‘Should’ for the future
What if we want to use ‘should’ to speak about the future? It is even simpler than using it for the past. Grammatically speaking, the construction is the same as it is for speaking about the present. We simply use a word or phrase that expresses future time, like tomorrow, next week, at the end of the month, etc. Some examples of this:
- You should apologize when you see her tomorrow.
- I should clean the house this weekend.
- We should go to the beach next week!
Now practice what you’ve learned by doing the exercise.
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