Should vs. Ought To

'Ought to' is considered as an alternative for the verb 'Should.' They can talk about assumptions and advice. In this lesson, we will learn more about them.

"Should" vs. "Ought To" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between 'should' and 'ought to' is that 'should' is a modal verb and 'ought to' is a semi-modal verb.

'Should' is a modal verb. Modal verbs are used to give additional information about the main verb. 'Should' is used to talk about assumptions and to give advice. It is the past tense of modal verb 'shall.' For example:

He should be kinder to his wife.

Our team should win this year.

Semi-modal verb Ought to

'Ought to' is a semi-modal verb. Semi-modal verbs sometimes act like modal verbs and sometimes act like a main verb. For example:

You ought to study for the upcoming exam.

Everyone ought to leave the auditorium.

Similarities

Talking about Assumptions

We use 'should' and 'ought to' to talk about assumptions. The word assumption is derived from 'assume.' Assumptions are statements without any firm proof. For example:

She should be home now.

She ought to be home now.

Talking about Duty

We can use 'should' and 'ought to' to talk about obligations. In other words, we are talking about actions and events that their fulfillment is a duty. 'Ought to' gives a stronger sense of duty than 'should.' Take a look at these examples:

You should drive carefully.

You ought to drive carefully.

Giving and Asking for Advice

  • 'Should' is used to give or ask for advice:

What should I do?

You should try bringing lunch from home.

  • 'Ought to' is used to give advice:

You ought to try bringing lunch from home.

You ought to try a new route to work.

Talking about Expectations

We use 'should' and 'ought to' to talk about things that we expect to happen. For instance:

It should rain tomorrow.

It ought to rain tomorrow.

Negation and Question

We can create negative and interrogative forms with 'should' and 'ought to.'
To create negative sentences, we simply add 'not' to our structure as illustrated below:

  • Should + not = Should notShouldn't
  • Ought + not + to = Ought not toOughtn't to

Note that the negative form of 'ought to' is correct but it is extremely uncommon. You may encounter articles that consider it as incorrect.

Here are some examples:

You should be here. → You shouldn't be here.

We ought to spend that much money. → We ought not to spend that much money.

To create questions with 'should,' we simply invert it. Watch:

I should trust her. → Should I trust her?

We should call the police. → Should we call the police?

To make questions with 'ought to,' we follow the pattern shown below:

  • Ought + subject + to + infinitive + …?

Here are some examples for clarification:

Ought I to report them to the police?

Ought she to visit a doctor?

With Conditionals

We use 'should' and 'ought to' with the second type of conditionals that talks about hypothetical situations. These situations are imaginary with a low chance of occurrence. For example:

If you are sick, you should visit a doctor.

If you are sick, you ought to visit a doctor.

Differences

Popularity

'Should' is commonly used in all types of texts while 'ought to' is extremely uncommon. 'Should' usually replaces 'ought to.'

Formality

'Should' is less formal than 'ought to.' 'Ought to' is used in formal texts while 'should' can be used in both formal and informal contexts.

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