Definition of should in English:


modal verb

  • 1Used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions.

    ‘he should have been careful’
    ‘I think we should trust our people more’
    ‘you shouldn't have gone’
    • ‘People with urgent conditions should not be left on trolleys in accident and emergency.’
    • ‘I was trying to overtake people in places that I shouldn't, and that got me in trouble.’
    • ‘He said if any of his relatives has done wrong, he should suffer the consequences.’
    • ‘If they commit crimes they should face the consequences as an adult offender.’
    • ‘Working conditions should surely be the same for everyone and not just a chosen few.’
    • ‘At the very least the council should assume a duty of care to all the kids using this scheme.’
    • ‘The council has taken this upon itself to install the cameras, and should pay the consequences.’
    • ‘Prisoners who are not suitable for open conditions should not be moved there.’
    • ‘We should never drink on duty at all and never ever use drugs of any kind.’
    • ‘I've broken the speed limit, parked where I shouldn't, driven with a rear light out, and so on.’
    • ‘In future, any player who misses a drug test should be banned for the two-year maximum period.’
    • ‘I could kick myself for doing what I knew I shouldn't and being too stupidly soft.’
    • ‘There is no single best way to reflect on your practice, but we should all spend some time doing it.’
    • ‘They should make it their duty to make everything as simple and straightforward for you as possible.’
    • ‘When a person enters the army, they have to swear an oath, and they should fulfil their obligation.’
    • ‘The writers should have spent more time and effort adapting the story to a modern setting.’
    ought to, should
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Indicating a desirable or expected state.
      ‘by now pupils should be able to read with a large degree of independence’
      • ‘Is it too much to expect that Otley should get a fair share of the roads budget?’
      • ‘Politicians should be able to go about the work we expect of them without a lawyer waiting on the end of a phone.’
      • ‘Indeed, in neutral monetary conditions it should work rather like an interest rate rise.’
      • ‘After that, students should be able to do a systematic examination of cranial nerves.’
      • ‘It's understandable that such an event should be turned into a commercial disc.’
      • ‘Most of all, hosting an event should be part of a long-term strategy for both its host city and country.’
      • ‘It might be argued that liability should not be conditional on such a finding.’
      • ‘Lord Lloyd also said he could see no reason why the condition should not be labelled Gulf War Syndrome.’
      • ‘One of the features of the new mood is that religion should be effective in the marketplace.’
      • ‘The relationship between patients and their family doctor should be built on trust and honesty.’
      • ‘He has genuine pace, hits the deck hard and the conditions in Australia should suit his type of bowling.’
      • ‘Mrs West said the Trust should encourage existing health care assistants to train as nurses.’
      • ‘You would think that people with this distressing condition should not be in jail at all.’
      • ‘He believed there should be a stamp duty or tax on a second seller of rezoned land.’
      • ‘Of course Turkey should be allowed to join if they have met the conditions of membership.’
      • ‘The crucial question is how health professionals should carry out their duties of care.’
      • ‘When consumers buy software, of course they should be able to expect that it will work.’
      • ‘This meant the pupils should be able to share in the planning of their school life, he said.’
      • ‘This is an important occasion for the parish and all who wish to attend should be able to do so.’
      ought, need, must
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Used to give or ask advice or suggestions.
      ‘you should go back to bed’
      ‘what should I wear?’
      • ‘He rejects any suggestion that he should have acted differently when Alli came calling.’
      • ‘We should listen to expert advice, but to slavishly follow it on every occasion defies logic.’
      • ‘You should choose pictures that are in good condition and always buy works you would like to live with.’
      • ‘I did not favour the suggestion that documents should be faxed to the court that afternoon.’
      • ‘One woman on a recent programme suggested that everyone should wear British clothes.’
      • ‘His family thought he should have psychiatric tests but he and his wife disagreed.’
      • ‘So what advice should we offer to young people considering or currently in higher education?’
      • ‘One tip she liked a lot is the suggestion that you should only wash the dishes once a day.’
      • ‘Official advice is that men should not drink more than three to four units a day, and women no more than two to three daily.’
      • ‘Pregnant women and those with a serious egg allergy should seek further advice.’
      • ‘The problem has been accentuated by the advice that babies should be put to sleep on their backs.’
      • ‘Ponting said that Australia should be rearing players who can play under any conditions.’
      • ‘Do I tell her or should I just accept it as an endearing part of her character?’
      • ‘Once you know where you are going to travel, you should seek medical advice.’
      • ‘As a rule of thumb, you should not expect to lose more than about 2lb over seven days.’
      • ‘She said though the race was a women-only event, men should not be afraid to offer to lend a helping hand.’
      • ‘If you plan to lose a lot of weight, you should probably see a doctor before you start.’
      • ‘Moulin Rouge is everything everyone has said it is, so if you haven't seen it then you probably should.’
      • ‘The company's small fan base is in celebratory mood but the champagne should be kept on ice.’
      • ‘Medical advice should be sought for any animal bite, and a tetanus injection given.’
      • ‘What do you think of the suggestions that there should be a united Irish football team?’
      • ‘Our advice is that they should be so, so careful when using their mobile phones.’
      • ‘As a general rule, no more than a fiver a throw is what you should be spending on barbecue wines.’
    3. 1.3I should Used to give advice.
      ‘I should hold out if I were you’
      • ‘I shouldn't worry if I were you.’
      • ‘I should dress warmly if I were you.’
  • 2Used to indicate what is probable.

    ‘£348 m should be enough to buy him out’
    ‘the bus should arrive in a few minutes’
    • ‘Events should move swiftly now, with an inquest being opened and adjourned by the end of next week.’
    • ‘That should provide him with enough potential material for the next bestseller.’
    • ‘One more intervention from each should be enough to ensure a meeting in Paris.’
    • ‘In its glory days of the past, it was a great event and should prove as popular as ever again this year.’
    • ‘That situation should, however, be eased as the Christmas buying period kicks in.’
    • ‘Having won in Katowice, England should be good enough to do it again at home.’
    • ‘The situation should become clearer in the next few weeks and after forthcoming elections.’
    • ‘All these factors should be enough to gain Magee victory, probably on points.’
    • ‘The next few events should also favour the Scot but he needs to make no mistakes if he is to capitalise on his advantage.’
    • ‘Wording has been added, and we now have legislation that should stand the test of time.’
    • ‘Trustees who conduct their duties diligently and take the right advice should have little to fear.’
    • ‘The yellow bus scheme should alleviate any worries parents have about public transport.’
    • ‘She said a package that included a birthday cake for her daughter was on its way and should arrive soon.’
    • ‘In March, Lonmin said trading conditions should remain strong for the rest of the year.’
    • ‘Back row forward Andy Hill faces a fitness test this week but should be passed fit to make his first appearance.’
  • 3formal (expressing the conditional mood) referring to a possible event or situation.

    ‘if you should change your mind, I'll be at the hotel’
    ‘should anyone arrive late, admission is likely to be refused’
    • ‘Next Sunday, he will be sub goalie and is prepared to do duty again should his team need him.’
    • ‘if you say that other people can use your material for commercial purposes, then you can't withdraw that permission should you change your mind.’
    • ‘Huntley said that should such a situation arise, he would report it to a senior member of staff.’
    • ‘He declined to comment on where the buses would move to should the depot be sold.’
    • ‘If new moneys are provided by a third party in this situation, it should not be a cause of concern to the borrower.’
    • ‘The warden giving this ticket told me the park was private and if I didn't want to pay, I shouldn't go.’
    • ‘Don't ever be late for these guys should you be lucky enough to get a job.’
    • ‘It is unlikely to stop him from doing the same thing again, however, should the situation arise.’
    • ‘So he should win the million dollars and be the subject of a documentary if all goes well.’
    • ‘One of the best things about it is that it's easy to swap the vest for a bikini top should the mood take you.’
    • ‘Perhaps other people in my situation should not disregard this opportunity if offered.’
    • ‘If you can avoid damp and overcrowded conditions in your greenhouse, this should help.’
    • ‘The teams and manufacturers wants to stay in, should FIA also listen to what they have to say.’
    • ‘If he feels that strongly about the current situation should he not be campaigning for someone else?’
    • ‘If you have trained, you are in good condition and you acclimatise, then you should be okay.’
    • ‘Now, if we can keep as much of that wealth as possible then we should be much better off when we retire.’
    • ‘Yes, if there were threats of physical violence, they should have received more cash.’
    • ‘If it is because of an underlying medical condition then this should be treated.’
    1. 3.1 (in the first person) indicating the consequence of an imagined event.
      ‘if I were to obey my first impulse, I should spend my days writing letters’
      • ‘I signed a ‘living will’, making it clear that, if I were terminally ill, I should receive no more than palliative care.’
      • ‘A friend suggested if I were an American, I should pass the US Foreign Service exam.’
  • 4Used in a clause with ‘that’ after a main clause describing feelings.

    ‘it is astonishing that we should find violence here’
    • ‘He was so anxious that she should like them and they her.’
    • ‘It seems to me revealing that Mr Halley and Mr Gibbins should describe him as if he were one and knew what he was doing.’
    • ‘It is shocking that we should pay many times more for the care of criminals than we do for the care of children with special needs.’
    • ‘I am astonished that you should take exception to an obviously Platonic enthusiasm.’
  • 5Used in a clause with ‘that’ expressing purpose.

    ‘in order that training should be effective it must be planned systematically’
    • ‘Alongside these menacing words is a call for self-sacrifice, in order that democracy should prevail.’
    • ‘He appealed to his relatives and friends to encourage the player so that he should remain focused in his football career.’
  • 6(in the first person) expressing a polite request or acceptance.

    ‘I should like some more, if I may’
    ‘we should be grateful for your advice’
    • ‘I should be grateful if you could draw this letter to the attention of your readers.’
    • ‘If Mr McIntyre has such evidence, I should like him to let me have it so I can investigate his claims.’
    • ‘I should like to complain about the failure of the BBC to cover the 50th celebration of Eurovision last night.’
    • ‘We should be grateful for your confirmation that you will not seek to pursue the matter further.’
    • ‘We should be glad to hear your opinions on any of the articles or reviews.’
  • 7(in the first person) expressing a conjecture or hope.

    ‘he'll have a sore head, I should imagine’
    ‘‘It won't happen again.’ ‘I should hope not.’’
    • ‘We should all hope that Sir John does not give in to this ill-advised bullying.’
    • ‘In the final analysis, we should hope that fear of global warming will subside.’
    • ‘‘But he will recover?’ ‘With people like you helping him, I should think so’.’
    • ‘I should imagine the Elliotts feel the same way.’
    • ‘It's not overly complicated, which would appeal to the majority I should imagine.’
  • 8Used to emphasize to a listener how striking an event is or was.

    ‘you should have seen Marge's face’
    • ‘You should have heard it echoing down the corridor, hilarious and beautiful all at once.’
    • ‘If you thought that the other house had a bad record, you should hear about this one.’
    • ‘Oh, and you should hear the ghastly screaming noise his girlfriend makes at night.’
    • ‘But you should have seen how awkward he was!’
    1. 8.1who/what should — but Emphasizing how surprising an event was.
      ‘I was in this shop when who should I see across the street but Tobias’
      • ‘Our photographer was dispatched to get a picture of the distressed bird lover, but on the way back, what should he see but 30 ducks waddling towards him.’
      • ‘I snuck downstairs into the luxurious media headquarters, and who should I see but the two girls from that now-famous beer commercial.’


As with shall and will, there is confusion about when to use should and would. The traditional rule is that should is used with first person pronouns (I and we), as in I said I should be late, and would is used with second and third persons (you, he, she, it, they), as in you didn't say you would be late. In practice, would is normally used instead of should in reported speech and conditional clauses: I said I would be late; if we had known we would have invited her. In spoken and informal contexts the issue rarely arises, since the distinction is obscured by the use of the contracted forms I'd, we'd, etc. In modern English uses of should are dominated by the senses relating to obligation (for which would cannot be substituted), as in you should go out more often, and for related emphatic uses, as in you should have seen her face!. For a discussion on the use of should of instead of should have, see have


Old English sceolde: past of shall.