Shall vs. Should

Shall and should are commonly known modal verbs that may confuse learners. In this lesson, we will learn their differences.

"Shall" vs. "Should" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between the modal verbs 'shall' and 'should' is that 'shall' refers to the future while 'should' refers to the past.

The verb 'shall' is a modal verb. Modal verbs give more information about the main verb. 'Shall' talks about necessities, and offers. It refers to the future. Take a look at the following examples:

Shall I close the door?

I shall be there on time.

Origin of Shall

'Shall' originates from the 17th century. It was used to replace 'will' when the subject was 'I' or 'we.' Nowadays, this usage is very uncommon as it is considered to be old-fashioned.

What should I tell him?

This vacation should be nice.

'Should' is also a modal verb. It is used to give or ask for advice and talk about assumptions. 'Should' is the past tense of the modal verb 'shall.' Have a look:

What should I tell him?

This vacation should be nice.

Differences

Talking About Certainty

'Shall' is used when we are certain that something will happen in the future:

The train shall leave at 3 o'clock.

We use 'should' when we are uncertain about the situation:

The research should be done by Saturday since they started early.

Talking about Necessities

When we want to talk about the law, mandatory events, and actions that must be done, we use 'shall.' This is mainly used in official documents and formal contexts. 'Should' cannot be used in this context as it conveys uncertainty. For example:

Both parties shall turn in their statements by Monday.

The meeting shall take place in your office next week.

Giving Advice

We use 'should' to ask for and give advice. In this form, we are expressing what we think is the right thing to do. 'Shall' cannot be used in this context as it will convey the wrong message and will sound like we are giving an order. Have a look:

You should treat her better or she will break up with you.

Stephan should be less rude to his subordinates.

Talking about Assumptions

We mentioned earlier that 'should' is past tense, but when it comes to talking about assumptions, it refers to the present and the future. Have a look:

He should be employed by now.

He should be at the station.

Making Offers

We use 'shall' in formal contexts to make offers. To make offers with 'shall,' we need a first-person singular or plural pronoun 'I' or 'we.' Watch:

Shall I take your coat?

Shall we accompany you to your room?

Formality

'Shall' is used in formal contexts while 'should' is less formal.

Structure

Negation and Question

We can create negative sentences with 'shall' and 'should:'
To do so, you simply add 'not' to the modal verb as illustrated below:

  • ShallShall not
  • ShouldShould notShouldn't

Take a look at these examples for clarification:

I shall meet him tomorrow. → I shall not meet him tomorrow.

He should be so happy to see you. → He shouldn't be so happy to see you.

We can create yes/no questions and wh-questions with modal verbs including 'shall' and 'should.'

Yes/no Questions

To make yes/no questions, we put the modal verbs at the beginning of the sentence followed by the subject and the main verb. For example:

Stella shall attend the party. → Shall Stella attend the party?

I should plant the seeds. → Should I plant the seeds?

Wh-questions

To create wh-questions, we start by a wh-word such as what, when, where, who, why, and how followed by a modal verb, the subject, and the base form of the main verb. For instance:

We shall depart soon. → When shall we depart?

I should call him. → Why should I call him?

With Other Modal Verbs

We use only one modal verb in a sentence. We cannot use modal verbs with other modal verbs. Take a look at these incorrect sentences:

I shall can defeat my enemy.

Harry might should reconsider his behavior.

With Conditionals

'Should' can be used with the second type of conditionals. In this type of conditionals, we are talking about hypothetical situations. These situations often have a low chance of occurrence. Have a look:

If you are sick, you should eat soup.

If you eat well enough, you should gain weight.

Tip!

You may hear 'shall' in conditional type 1 statements, but this usage is mainly dedicated to dialects.

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