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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English scholde, from Old English sċolde, first and third person preterite form of sċulan (should,” “have to,” “to owe), the ancestor of English shall. By surface analysis, shall +‎ -ed. Cognate with German sollte, Gothic 𐍃𐌺𐌿𐌻𐌳𐌰 (skulda). Related to Middle English shild and shildy.


  • (stressed) IPA(key): /ʃʊd/
    • (file)
  • (unstressed) IPA(key): /ʃəd/
    • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʊd
  • (obsolete) IPA(key): /ʃʊld/, /ʃuːld/



  1. (auxiliary) Ought to; indicating opinion, advice, or instruction, about what is required or desirable.
    1. Used to issue an instruction (traditionally seen as carrying less force of authority than alternatives such as 'shall' or 'must').
      You should never drink and drive.
      The law is clear that you should always wear a seat belt.
      The manual says that this switch should be in the 'off' position.
    2. Used to give advice or opinion that an action is, or would have been, beneficial or desirable.
      You should go and see that film. I think you'll enjoy it.
      I should exercise more often, but I’m too lazy.
      She should not have been so rude.
    3. (informal) With verbs such as 'see' or 'hear', usually in the second person, used to point out something remarkable in either a good or bad way.
      You should see his new apartment. It's like a palace!
      If you think her piano playing is bad, you should hear her sing!
    4. In questions, asks what is correct, proper, desirable, etc.
      What do you think? What should I do?
      • 2012 August 21, Ed Pilkington, “Death penalty on trial: should Reggie Clemons live or die?”, in The Guardian[1]:
        Next month, Clemons will be brought before a court presided over by a "special master", who will review the case one last time. The hearing will be unprecedented in its remit, but at its core will be a simple issue: should Reggie Clemons live or die?
  2. (auxiliary) Ought to; expressing expectation.
    1. Indicates that something is expected to have happened or to be the case now.
      They should have finished by now; I'll call them to check.
      My fruit trees should be in flower, but the cold spring has set them back.
    2. Will be likely to (become or do something); indicates a degree of possibility or probability that the stated thing will happen or be true in the future.
      They should have it finished by Friday.
      When you press this button, the pilot flame should ignite.
      You should be warm enough with that coat.
  3. (auxiliary, subjunctive) Used to form a variant of the present subjunctive, expressing a state or action that is hypothetical, potential, mandated, etc.
    If I should be late, go without me.
    Should you need extra blankets, you will find them in the closet.
    The man demanded that he should be allowed entry.
    I'm surprised that he should say that.
    • 1906 August, Alfred Noyes, “The Highwayman”, in Poems, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., published October 1906, →OCLC, part 1, stanza V, page 47:
      'One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night, / But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; / Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, / Then look for me by moonlight, / Watch for me by moonlight, / I'll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way.'
    • 1921 June, Margery Williams, “The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real”, in Harper’s Bazar, volume LVI, number 6 (2504 overall), New York, N.Y.: International Magazine Company, →ISSN, →OCLC:
      It was a long weary time, for the Boy was too ill to play, and the little Rabbit found it rather dull with nothing to do all day long. But he snuggled down patiently, and looked forward to the time when the Boy should be well again, and they would go out in the garden amongst the flowers and the butterflies and play splendid games in the raspberry thicket like they used to.
    • 1968 December 8, Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Stevie Wonder (lyrics and music), “I’d Be a Fool Right Now”, in For Once in My Life, performed by Stevie Wonder:
      And I'd be a fool right now
      If I should hurt you girl
      And I'd be a fool right now
      If I should leave you girl
    • 2008, Peter Michael Higgins, Number Story: From Counting to Cryptography, page 141 (Google Books view):
      He is noted for coming up with his 'wager', in which he argued that he was prepared to believe in God on the grounds that he had nothing to lose if he was wrong, and everything to gain should he be right.
  4. (auxiliary) simple past of shall
    I told him that I should be busy tomorrow.
    • 1833, [Frederick Marryat], chapter IV, in Peter Simple. [], volume I, London: Saunders and Otley, [], published 1834, →OCLC, page 42:
      I was astonished at this polite offer, which my modesty induced me to ascribe more to my uniform than to my own merits, and, as I felt no inclination to refuse the compliment, I said that I should be most happy.
  5. (auxiliary) An alternative to would with first person subjects.
    1. (formal or literary) Used to express a conditional outcome.
      If I had not been so tired, I should have laughed heartily.
    2. (formal or literary outside certain combinations such as with 'imagine' or 'think') Used to impart a tentative, conjectural or polite nuance.
      I should imagine that they have arrived by now.
      I should think you would apologize.
      I should be very grateful to receive your prompt reply. (formal or old-fashioned)
      We should very much like to meet her. (formal or old-fashioned)
      • 1817, Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey:
        I should like to dine with him. I dare say he gives famous dinners.
    3. Used to express what the speaker would do in another person's situation, as a means of giving a suggestion or recommendation.
      It's disgraceful the way that they've treated you. I should write and complain.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Should has, as its most common meaning in modern English, the sense ought as in I should go, but I don't see how I can. However, the older sense as the subjunctive of the future indicative auxiliary, shall, is often used with I or we to indicate a more polite form than would: I should like to go, but I can't; Were he to arrive, I should be pleased. In much speech and writing, should has been replaced by would in contexts of this kind, but it remains in conditional subjunctives: should (never would) I go, I should wear my new dress; should he remain, he would be granted asylum.
  • (obligation): Contrast with stronger auxiliary verb must, which indicates that the speaker believes the subject is required to execute the predicate, or have to which indicates that the speaker believes the subject is required to execute, although speaker might disagree with the principle, and should which is merely advice – take it or leave it.
  • (likely): Possibility, or probability. Contrast with stronger auxiliary verb in the affirmative must, and negative sense can't, which indicate that there is a logical imperative certainty that the subject will (or will not) execute the predicate. Also compare with the weaker might, which indicates at most a 50/50 possibility, or probability.
  • (subjunctive): In American English, the present subjunctive is commonly used instead of should (e.g., "suggest that he stay"), while in British English, should is commoner (e.g., "suggest that he should stay"). Both forms of English, however, sometimes use should in certain conditionals (e.g., "If I should be in trouble, I shall call you"). Furthermore, should is not used in independent clauses with the present subjunctive, many of which clauses are now fossilized expressions (e.g., "Peace be with you", "suffice it to say"; never should be or should suffice).
  • See the usage notes at shall.



Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


should (plural shoulds)

  1. Something that ought to be the case as opposed to already being the case.
    • 1996, Fred Shoemaker, Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible, page 88:
      When the golf ball is there, the whole self-interference package — the hopes, worries, and fears; the thoughts on how-to and how-not-to; the woulds, the coulds, and the shoulds — is there too.
    • 2003, Robert L. Leahy, Overcoming Resistance in Cognitive Therapy[2]:
      However, we can address maladaptive shoulds by examining the differences between prior events, causes, proximate causes, and moral responsibility.
    • 2008, Working Mother, volume 31, number 8, page 20:
      Being a list-o-maniac, I suggested we make a list of the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts." So in the darkness of hazy sleep, I began to mentally prepare mine. The first item on the "should" side was easy: a sibling for our 3-year-old daughter.


should (third-person singular simple present shoulds, present participle shoulding, simple past and past participle shoulded)

  1. To make a statement of what ought to be true, as opposed to reality. (Can we add an example for this sense?)

See also[edit]