Affirmative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “should” + base form of verb

  • “I should go before it gets dark.”
  • “You should get an Uber instead of walking home in the dark.”

* Please note: “Should” cannot be contracted with pronouns.

Negative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “should not” + base form of verb

Contracted form:

subject + “shouldn’t” + base form of verb

  • “He should not have let his emotions affect his judgement.”
  • “There shouldn’t be too much traffic at this time of the day.”

* Please note: Full forms are used in formal contexts or for added emphasis.


Full forms:

(a) “should” + subject + base form of verb

(b) question word + “should” + subject + base form of verb

  • Should I put the kettle on?”
  • What should we do now?”
Negative questions

It is possible to make negative questions even though their uses are quite specific.

The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. Contracted forms are preferred in general.

Contracted forms:

(a) “shouldn’t” + subject + base form of verb

(b) question word + “shouldn’t” + subject + base form of verb

Full forms:

(a) “should” + subject + “not” + base form of verb

(b) question word + “should” + subject + “not” + base form of verb

  • Shouldn’t you be studying?”
  • Should you not be studying?”

Uses of Should

1.   To give or ask for advice or suggestions.
  • “You should go now if you want to get there on time.”
  • “What time should we meet for dinner?”
a.  With “I” – To give advice or express opinions.

In my opinion, using “would” is more common.

  • “I should think he’ll be happy about the promotion.”
  • “I shouldn’t be too concerned about it if I were you.”
2.   To express what you think is ideal or appropriate.

This is used in a few ways.

a.   As a form of criticism.
  • “They should improve the roads. There’re so many pot holes.”
  • “You should stop smoking.”

* Please note: Even though one can give advice with “should,” it often comes across as criticism, bossy and judgemental.

Tone is a factor but it doesn’t always help—it comes across as criticism more often than not. 

  • “You should do your homework before it gets too late.”
  • “You shouldn’t drink and drive.”
b.   With “should have” – To express regret by expressing what is ideal, particularly about something that did not happen in the past.
  • “We should have read the reviews. Their service was terrible.”
  • “They should have waited a bit longer before getting married.”
c.   With “that” – To express what someone thinks is important, particularly activities that are ideal.
  • “My manager recommended that I should take some time off.”
  • “It’s essential that we should be on the same page.”
3.   To express obligation or give an order.
  • “People with mild symptoms of respiratory infection should get tested.”
  • “All participants should first register at the front desk.”
a.   With “that” – To express what someone decides, suggests, or orders.
  • “The government recommended that working hours should be reduced to promote a balanced lifestyle.”
  • “The committee has decided that Eve should be the new secretary.”
4.   To express what is likely or expected.
  • “The scissors should be in the drawer next to you.”
  • “Your orders should arrive by next week.”
a.   With “should” or “should have” – To say that something that was likely or expected to happen but did not happen
  • “The weather forecast said it should be sunny today.”
  • “The order should have arrived last week.”
5.   With “you should have” – To tell somebody that they missed an interesting or entertaining experience.
  • You should have seen her face. She was furious when she realised her sugar and salt had been swapped.”
  • You should have been there. We were up until the morning drinking and sharing stories.”
6.   With “Why should I?” or “How should I know?” – To decline a request or express annoyance in the form of questions.

These are also considered rude.

  • Why should I give him money?”
  • How should I know where you left your keys?”
a.   With “Why should…?” – To express that you do not believe what someone has told you or add emphasis when you do not understand why.

However, using “would” instead is more common.

  • Why should anyone steal my watch? It’s not valuable!”
7.   With “you shouldn’t have” – To thank someone who has unexpectedly done something generous.

This is usually used in spoken English—not written.

  • “We got you a new coffee pod machine. Hope you like it.”
    • “You guys! You shouldn’t have!”
8.   With “I should think/hope/imagine/say (so/not)” – Used to express opinions. 

This can be used to express uncertainty or strong agreement – tone and word stress will help to distinguish the difference.

a.   To express opinions we are not certain about.
  • I should imagine it will cost a lot more.”
  • “Do you think this is enough?”
    • I should think so.”
b.   To express strong agreement or emphasise one’s opinion.
  • “The commercial says that diamonds are forever.”
    • I should hope so. Eve’s engagement ring already cost me an arm and a leg.”
  • “Is Wally invited?”
    • I should hope not! He’s so rude.”
c.   With “I should think so/not (too)” – To say that something is the correct and expected thing to do.

I believe this is considered British English. I am not really familiar with this use, but I feel like it can come across as a bit condescending.

  • “We apologised to each other afterwards.”
    • I should think so.”
9.   To refer to possible events in the future.

This is used in a few different ways.

a.   (formal) With or without “if” – In conditional sentences.

However, I think it is more common to only use “if.”

  • If you should decide not to continue with the program, you may be eligible for a full refund.”
  • Should you wish to use the internet, please call reception for the Wi-Fi password.”
b.   With “that” – To refer to past statements or decisions, etc., about the future.

However, it is more common to use “would” instead.

  • “We agreed that we should meet again in two months.”
  • “I realised that we should have to cooperate with the investigation.”
10.   As the past tense form of “shall” to refer to past statements about the future in reported/indirect speech.

“Shall” is not commonly used these days, so this use of “should” is also quite uncommon.

Past: “I shall be in London next week.”
Present: “He said he should be in London next week.”

Past: “We shall do everything we can to fix this.”
Present: “They said they should do everything they can to fix this.”

11.   With “that” – To express a feeling about something that happened.

This is a little old-fashioned and it is more common to omit “should.”

  • “I’m surprised that he should snap at you like that.”
  • “I’m anxious that we should leave so late.”
12.   To express surprise about an event or a situation.

Here, this is a question form but in a sentence. I tend to hear this used with older people when they share stories, so this is not very common.

  • “I rang the doorbell and who should open the door but my old friend Wally!”
13.   To refer to possible or imagined situations.

This is used in a few different ways. For these examples, using “would” is more common.

a.   With “I” or “we” – Used in conditional clauses to describe what you would do in an imagined situation.
  • “If I had stayed any longer, I should go mad.”
  • “If the opportunity came up again, I should take it.”
b.   (formal) With “in case,” “lest,” and “for fear that” – To refer to a possible situation that is undesirable.
  • “He lied about his credentials lest anyone should find out the truth.”
  • “She brought an umbrella in case it should rain.”
14.   (formal) Used with “I” or “we” – To express desires or make polite requests.

Using “would” is also more common here.

  • We should like to have dinner with her again.”
  • I should like a slice of chocolate cake.”
15.   (formal) With “so that” or “in order that – To express what the purpose of an action is.

Using “would” is also more common here.

  • “He lied about his credentials so that he should get hired.”
  • “She brought an umbrella in order that she shouldn’t get wet.”

Original post: 30 May 2021