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' is used to indicate future action or intention and to express a command or suggestion, while 'should' is used to indicate advice, suggestion, obligation, probability, or hypothetical situations.

'Shall' is a modal verb that is used to indicate future action or intention, often in the first person. It is commonly used in British English and may sound more formal than 'will' when used to indicate future action. In addition to indicating future action or intention, 'shall' can also be used to make an offer or invitation, or to ask for advice or instructions. 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.

'Should' is a modal verb that is commonly used to give advice, suggest a course of action, indicate obligation or duty, express probability or expectation, or indicate hypothetical or conditional situations. Have a look:

You should brush your teeth twice a day.

giving advice

You should pay your bills on time.

implying obligation or duty

The package should arrive tomorrow.

indicating probability or expectation

Should you see him, tell him to call me.

indicating a hypothetical or conditional situations

Differences

Obligation vs. recommendation

'Shall' is commonly used in official documents and formal contexts to indicate obligations and requirements, particularly when discussing legal or mandatory actions. 'Should', on the other hand, is used to offer advice or recommendations or suggest a course of action, particularly in situations where there is some degree of flexibility or discretion. The choice between 'shall' and 'should' depends on the level of obligation being conveyed. For example:

Both parties shall turn in their statements by Monday.

The meeting shall take place in your office next week.

You should wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.

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

Talking about Assumptions

'Should' can be used to talk about assumptions or expectations in certain contexts. When used in this way, 'should' can indicate a likelihood or probability based on what is considered normal or expected. Have a look:

He should be employed by now.

He should be at the station.

Making Offers

'Shall' can be used with first-person singular or plural pronouns 'I' and 'we' to make offers in a polite or formal way. When used in this way, 'shall' can help to convey a sense of politeness and respect, particularly in formal or professional settings. Take a look at the examples:

Shall I take your coat?

Shall we accompany you to your room?

Formality

In general, 'shall' is considered to be a more formal and traditional modal verb, while 'should' is considered to be less formal and more common in everyday speech.
'Shall' is often used in legal or official documents to indicate requirements or obligations, and can convey a sense of authority or seriousness.
In contrast, 'should' is often used to give advice or make suggestions, and can convey a sense of informality or friendliness.

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. This type of conditionals is concerned with hypothetical situations with a low chance of occurrence. When 'should' is used in these sentences, 'if' is removed and the subject and modal verb are inverted. Have a look:

Should you get sick, stay home and rest.

Should you arrive late, you can enter from the back door.

Tip!

'Shall' cana lso be used in conditional type 1 statements. However, it's worth noting that the use of 'shall' in conditionals can vary depending on the speaker's tone and level of formality. In some cases, other modal verbs such as 'will' or 'would' may be more appropriate depending on the context and intended meaning.

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