Shall and Should for intermediate learners

'Shall' and 'Should' are like relatives, because 'Should' is the past tense of 'Shall', but they have different functions despite their similarities.

"Shall and Should" in English Grammar

What Is Should?

One of the most commonly used modal verbs in English grammar is 'should'. It is used in many different contexts with many different meanings.


Just like all the other modal verbs, 'should' is used with the base form of the verb most of the time. Look at the following examples:

She should do her homework quickly.

They should head home soon.

'Should' is also used in negative sentences and questions. Pay attention to the following examples:

She should not talk like that in front me.

We shouldn't smoke in here.

Should I call you in the evening then?

Should he take a nap right now?

As you can see, the modal only comes at the beginning of the question.

'Should' can also be used in question tags. Look below:

I think they should leave immediately, shouldn't they?

Selina should run to get to her class, shouldn't she?


As it was mentioned above, this modal verb is common in English grammar. Below are its main uses:

  • Advising and Suggesting Someone to Do or Not Do Something
  • Talking About Expectations and Predicting the Future
  • Instructing Somebody to Do Something
  • Talking About Obligations and Expectations in the Present Moment

Advising and Suggesting Someone to Do or Not Do Something

Usually, this type of modal verb is used to indicate when someone is giving advice to someone else. Look at the examples below:

She should stop eating too much cake.

They should start watching some documentaries.

He shouldn't smoke in here.

We shouldn't talk like that with each other.

Future Prediction and Talking About Expectations

We can also use this modal verb to talk about events that are likely to happen in the near future or at the present moment. Additionally, when someone is expected, we can use this modal verb. Look at the following examples:

She should be here any minute now.

They should reach the ship in 30 minutes.

Instructing Somebody

'Should' is also used when we want to order or instruct someone to do something. Look at the following examples:

Everybody should throw their cigarettes in this ash tray.

She should not treat me like this.


If you want to use a more obligatory modal when instructing or ordering someone, you can use 'must' instead of 'should'. Compare the following examples:

You should study for tomorrow.

You must study for tomorrow.

Here, as you can see, there is more force in the statement.

Talking About Obligations and Expectations in the Present Moment

When obligating someone to do something or expecting an event, we can also use 'should' with a different format. Here, 'should' comes with the 'ing' form of the verb.

Study the following examples carefully:

You should be doing your homework by dinner.

They should be talking to the manager right now.


Another modal verb used by English speakers is 'shall'. However, it is not that common in English grammar and it is mostly used in formal contexts by British speakers. Look at the following examples:

Shall we dance?

I shall not do as you say, sir.


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