Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Most students know that should is used to give advice in English. However, that is not its only usage. In this article, we will look at four ways to use this common modal verb. Let's go!
Present and future advice
subject + should (not) + base verb - "We should work harder."
With this usage, you can give...
"You shouldn't talk to her like that."
"He should eat more vegetables."
Present advice in the moment
"We should leave."
"It's cold. I should change my jacket." (advice to yourself)
"You should call him tonight."
"They should do it later."
As you can see, this usage can be used to talk about general, present, or future advice. You can even give advice to yourself. Another way to think of this usage is that you are suggesting a course of action. You should try to remember that!
Past advice or personal regrets
subject + should (not) + have + past participle - "I shouldn't have done that."
With this usage, you can...
Scold someone about their past decisions
"You should have been nicer to her!" (You weren't nice to her. That wasn't a good idea in my opinion)
"You shouldn't have called me so late." (You called me too late. That was a bad idea)
Give your opinion on people's past decisions and how they should have been different
"He should have told her that sooner." (He didn't tell her soon enough)
"She shouldn't have given them the money." (It was a bad idea for her to give them the money)
Express your own past regrets
"I should have told you sooner. I'm sorry." (I didn't tell you sooner and I feel bad about it)
"I should never have treated him that way." (I treated him poorly and I feel about it)
While we can't change the past, we can still discuss how we wish we could with this usage.
Present, past, or future expectations
subject + should (not) + base verb - "He should be here by now."
This usage can be used to express...
"Trust should be the most important thing in a relationship."
"She should be a millionaire, but she wastes everything she makes." ("everything she makes" refers to money she earns)
"He should be at work by now." (I know he starts work at 8 o'clock every day. It's 8:30pm now)
"The store should be open." (It's usually open at this time. I think it's open)
Past expectations (subject + should (not) + have + past participle)
"She should have been there hours ago." (She told me she was going to be there several hours ago)
"The plan shouldn't have failed." (I thought the plan was perfect. I'm confused as to why it failed)
"We should be there in 20 minutes."
"Toronto should beat Montreal tonight." (referring to a hockey game)
With this usage, the most common verb that comes after should is be. In all of these cases, should is used to talk about what you generally expect, or what you expect in the moment or in the future.
Show less certainty / hedge your predictions or expectations
subject + should (not) + base verb - "This should work."
This usage is similar to the one just above it because it deals with what you expect, and it is useful to show when you are less certain of something. In truth, the example sentence "Toronto should beat Montreal tonight" could fit here as well. Let's look at some other examples:
"That shouldn't be a problem." (I don't expect it to be a problem, but maybe it will be)
"I should have it done by Friday." (I hope to have it done by Friday, but there's a chance I won't)
"We should be there soon." (I expect that we will be there soon, but I can't predict everything, like traffic, for example)
As you can see, "should" has many more uses than just advice. If you would like to hear me talk more about this topic, check out this video lesson and do the quiz when you're done.
If you have any questions or things you'd like to add to this article, please leave them in the comments. Good luck with your studies!